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The Boy Who Cried Wolf was a Bad Fundraiser

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

The Boy Who Cried Wolf was a Bad Fundraiser

I’ve had the joy of spending most of my professional life working with nonprofits - as a staff member, and now, as a consultant with several organizations across the country. It shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that every organization I’ve worked with has a long list of needs.

Some organizations need help with staffing, some need materials, and some have ambitious goals that need a donor (or group of donors to take a leap of faith). Some, unfortunately, have dire needs to increase cash flow so they can keep their organization afloat.

While need is a consistent phenomenon across the sector, messaging about it is not.

It gets back to a fundamental question about what motivates donors. How do we create urgency in our funding appeals? How do we let donors know about the significance of their support and its importance to the mission?

All too often, the easy answer is to write appeals that highlight short-term needs and our urgent request for support. My inbox is often full of fundraising appeals that make me feel like my donation is the difference between an organization surviving or going away completely.

In the short term, these appeals tend to work. They push a donor’s emotional buttons and can drive a quick infusion of cash.

Don’t let short-term success fool you, though. Over the long term, these appeals will destroy your fundraising efforts.

I call it the “boy who cried wolf” phenomenon. If I send an appeal today about my urgent need for support, it’s likely to bring in funding.

If I send it again in a month, I might get another infusion of cash.

But what happens if I send it again…and again…and again?

Eventually, our urgent need for support no longer looks like commitment to the mission, and instead looks like a transactional interaction with our donors. Our organizations become the boy who cried wolf, and donors completely lose their sense of urgency.

When donors become cynical toward your messaging, they grow detached from your organization, and your support will wither.

It may be tempting to send an appeal that will lead to a quick infusion of financial support, but it’s a recipe for long-term challenges. Instead, consider the following when developing appeals:

  • Stories bring the mission to life: At Team Kat & Mouse, we love working with clients to master how to tell their stories. Effective storytelling moves donors and brings your mission to life. Use your appeals to tell donors stories and make them feel like they’re making a difference in the lives of those you serve.

  • Don’t think about appeals in isolation: Sending one-off fundraising messages feels disjointed and incomplete for donors. Instead, let your communications build off of one another. Set up a calendar to lay out when you’ll send appeals, how you’ll send them, and which messages you’ll want to highlight.

  • Don’t beg; inspire: Nobody wants to invest in an organization that looks like it’s struggling to survive. Show donors the great work you’re doing and make them feel like they can’t miss the chance to get in on it. A donation is an investment, and donors will be much more comfortable investing in an organization that is moving the needle.

  • Have a call to action: Tell your donors what you need from them. How do they give? Do you have an option for them to give monthly (if not, you should!)? This is critical for a successful appeal, but often gets lost in the shuffle.

Sending effective appeal letters is not easy. It takes deliberate planning and effective storytelling to do it the right way, but if done right, it will build a consistent, growing base of donors.

If you need help with your appeals, you’re not alone! Reach out to our team of nonprofit fundraising consultants at Team Kat & Mouse for a free consultation to learn about how we can help.

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