Donors don’t give to institutions. They invest in ideas and people in whom they believe. When establishing your fundraising goals, you must first consider how to gain donors’ trust and demonstrate the value of your mission.
It is important to be able to show the immediate as well as long-term impact of donors’ contributions. Whether it is buying meals for the elderly, providing school supplies for children, funding scholarships, or helping underprivileged families find affordable housing, donors need to be able to see exactly where their money is going.
So how do you develop a successful fundraising campaign? Always be open and honest with stakeholders and donors. Tell them what the strengths of your organization are and what you do best. At the same time, do not be afraid to mention your organization’s needs. At the end of the day, if you didn’t have any areas for improvement, you wouldn’t need more money, right? So, find a way to present a positive, but also realistic image of your organization. Highlight your best assets as an organization, but also mention a few areas that you would like to address and improve if you had the resources to do so.
Communication scholars always reinforce the importance of ethos (credibility), pathos (emotions), and logos (logical arguments) – the three means of persuasion developed by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Those three concepts also could be applied to fundraising.
Ethos, or ethical appeal, refers to the trustworthiness of a person or an organization. It is related to the person’s or organization’s reputation–their expertise in the field, previous record or integrity, and so forth. In the world of fundraising, ethos translates into establishing the credibility of your nonprofit and the value of your cause. Ethos is achieved through branding, or shaping the public’s perception of your nonprofit. It is the sum total of your organization’s capabilities and personality; the essence of what you do for your community, and what differentiates you from other organizations.
Pathos means persuading by appealing to people’s emotions. Often times, it is achieved by telling a story, which can make it easier for people and potential donors to relate to your organization. Share a fundraising success story that shows the impact of donors’ money. If you are raising money for scholarships, tell the journey of a child who was born in an underprivileged family and whose life was transformed by a scholarship. If your nonprofit is helping the elderly, tell donors about the essential role you play in the life of a 96-year-old man who has no family and who can’t leave the house to go buy groceries.
Logos means persuading by the use of logical arguments and statistics. This is where you can show statistics about how pervasive the problems your nonprofit is addressing are and what impact you have been able to make so far.
Depending on your goals and resources, you may choose to use all three means of persuasion or only one or two of them. You need to consider your audiences and which types of argument would best suit them. For example, if you are the Board Chair of a college soliciting donations from alumni for the annual fund or the Executive Director of a cancer society raising money for research from cancer survivors, you will probably benefit from using pathos (emotional appeal) the most, as you will be addressing people who have been directly affected by your cause or mission. In contrast, a person who is not as tied to the cause would need more background information using ethos and logos appeals supported by statistics and numbers to demonstrate legitimacy and need for action.
Every fundraising campaign is an act of persuasion. Your job is to choose the most powerful means of persuasion depending on your goals and resources. Aristotle’s ethos, pathos, and logos are tools that if used effectively and with the right audiences can help you tell your organization’s story and achieve your fundraising goals. Aristotle might not have been the Vice President for Advancement for the Acropolis of Athens, but he sure knew a few things about persuasion and fundraising.