The GiveWell team has issued a challenge to the smart giving movement. Their top rated charity, Village Reach, consults on health system logistics in high-poverty, remote areas to help life-saving supplies get to those who need them. According to GiveWell’s analysis, Village Reach is able to do the most with donated dollars to demonstrably improve people’s lives out of all of the nonprofits they’ve looked at. The problem is “health care logistics” isn’t sexy and Village Reach struggles to raise money.
GiveWell has asked people to submit suggestions for how Village Reach can better sell their work. My interest in the challenge is that I believe that too many people who care about effective nonprofit work seem to believe that running strong programs is the key to success. In fact, nonprofits need to be able to run good programs AND raise money so they can bring their programs to more people.
Fundraising is rarely discussed within the smart giving movement. Yet, focusing on proven programs while ignoring fundraising is like a for-profit company that builds great products but doesn’t put enough time and effort into sales and marketing.
I believe that donors actually want to support great nonprofits. I believe that while great programs won’t sell themselves, that great nonprofits should be able to market what they do well. I believe that they key is to reorient the focus of nonprofit marketing to put the nonprofit itself, rather than the programs and beneficiaries, at the center of the story.
As an advisor to donors, I sometimes feel conflicted about offering advice on fundraising. However, understanding the story of a nonprofit is key to my clients’ willingness to support them and yet the story of the nonprofit itself is often buried. If nonprofits would put their own story at the center of their fundraising efforts, it would make the process of philanthropy better for my clients.
It is amazing to me how rarely nonprofits focus on their own story. So much fundraising talks about what nonprofits do instead of who they are.
But in this video, the nonprofit Acumen Fund has figured out how to tell a compelling story about themselves. The video references beneficiaries of course, but at its core, it is a story about Acumen Fund.
(If you are viewing this in an email, click here to see the video)
My suggestion for Village Reach, and for any nonprofit struggling to raise money in support of effective programs, is to realize that donors want to become a part of your story. As consumers, people buy products which help them be the person they want to be. I believe that donors want to do the same thing. We donate as a way to “self-actualize", to most fully become the person we believe we are.
There is a huge opportunity for effective nonprofits to build brands that donors want to be a part of. To tell authentic stories, which donors want a role in. Interestingly, I find that nonprofit groups which invest in other groups tell their own stories best. Groups like Acumen Fund and New Profit have learned to tell their own story in a way that donors want to be affiliated with them. Maybe that’s because these groups know that when they support another organization, they themselves are looking for groups which are able to tell an authentic story about themselves.
If the smart giving movement wants a world full of robust nonprofits, we need to recognize that sales and marketing is just as critical of a business function as program development and delivery.