At the heart of fundraising is a relationship. Not with a dollar, but with a donor.

And so the wider the distance between you and your donor, the more difficult and impersonal it will be to ask for help.

In the world online fundraising, closing that distance actually means that we need to go beyond digital. Here’s how.

Just recently one of the most famous endurance races occurred in Boulder, Colorado.

The Ironman Triathlon is largely considered one of the toughest endurance challenges on the planet. Competitors have to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and if that wasn’t enough—they cap it off with a jaunty 26.2 mile run (also known as a marathon).

Even typing that is exhausting.

The training these athletes endure to compete is brutal—and the day of the race is even crazier. Competitors have only 17 hours to complete the entire triathlon!

But being the kind of guy that is always looking for the story inside the story… I can’t help but notice that while there are actually three very different chapters in this race⁠—swimming, biking, and running ⁠—there is only one final goal.

Reach the finish line.

The specific activity of the triathlete will change throughout the event, but the objective is the same.

Close the distance between you and the finish line.

This is true for fundraising too. But the “finish line” is your donor.

Not the money.

The objective of fundraising

In fundraising, there is always a specific financial goal. Everyone is focused on meeting or beating a number.

But if that’s your goal, then every time you reach out to your donor, you’ll lose.

It might seem like I’m splitting hairs, but follow me on this.

The goal of the Ironman athlete is to complete the triathlon. But as they put one foot in front of the other, their immediate objective becomes far more focused. 

That objective is to shorten the distance between them and the finish line as quickly as possible. By closing the distance, they move closer and closer to their goal.

In the same way, your immediate goal in online fundraising is not to get money, but to shorten the distance between you and your donor.

Shorten the emotional distance

First things first, you need to shorten the emotional distance between you and your donor.

You’ve got to get them to care. They need to feel a deep urgency to join in the work, the project, or the cause.

Most of the time, you are not competing against another nonprofit for their charitable dollars.

You’re competing against apathy. You’re competing against routine.

So be sure to tell the stories of how donors are making a difference through their gifts. Tell stories that demonstrate the need you’re trying to solve. Put the donor at the center of your story and let them know they are indispensable. 

And don’t be afraid to use emotive language to describe the situations and needs.

The need is real! And the donor’s gift is exactly what can meet that need.

Shorten the intellectual distance

Secondly, you’ve got to shorten the intellectual distance between you and your donor.

  • Why do you need the money?
  • How will you use it?
  • Does your program strategy make sense?
  • Does your donor understand the problem clearly?
  • Do they understand your solution clearly?

Few donors will give you money if they don’t understand how their gift is going to make a difference.

You’ve got to close the intellectual gap and explain how a financial gift will make the impact the donor wants to see.

Shorten the distance from intention to donation

Finally, you’ve got to make the next step⁠—the act of giving⁠—as clear and as convenient as possible.

Shorten the distance between when they first click on the donate button to when their gift is processed. Make it fast, simple, and intuitive.

We’ve seen over and over again how clunky, confusing interfaces repel donors away.

They don’t know what to do. They don’t know how long the process will take. They don’t know if they can trust the system.

This is where RaiseDonors really shines.

We make sure that donors feel confident by removing friction from online giving, while at the same time assuring them with cutting-edge online security measures.

Stay close to your donor.

Of course, you should never lose sight of your financial targets.

But when you’re crafting your fundraising strategy, keep in mind that the immediate goal always needs to be to shorten the distance between you and your donor.

Stay close to them, and they’ll stay close to you.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand & Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.