Seth Godin’s tips on Nonprofit Fundraising and Storytelling

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In this video, Amy Eisenstein interviews long time marketing Guru, Seth Godin on his thoughts on Nonprofit Fundraising and Storytelling.

Video Transcript:

hi I’m Amy Eisenstein welcome to ask the fundraising expert.

Today I’m so excited to have Seth Godin here with me a well-known author speaker founder of multiple companies and all-around marketing expert.

Welcome Seth, thanks for joining.

Let’s get started talking about storytelling and nonprofits and how can storytelling help nonprofits spread their word.

Let’s understand that when someone donates money to a charity they’re buying something they’re hiring that charity to solve a problem for them the question we need to understand is what are they buying. Too often we get hung up on the problem to be solved the charts and the graphs and the urgency. I did no know this time it’s urgent that’s not what anyone buys ever and when we talk about what we’ve done when we talk about the charity we’re supporting what do we say these come down to the story and the story is. Does it resonate with me does it resonate with the person I believe I am and my place in society? A short way of saying it is these people like us do things like this and every successful charity is successful at the fundraising end because they have figured out how to be part of the culture, not all of the cultures a section of the culture where people proudly say of course I support them because people like us do things like this and the mistake that we make because our cause is so good is that we skip all that and try to get to the facts. Guess what, no one looks at the facts when we buy a chocolate bar they don’t look at the facts when they buy a car and they don’t look at the facts when they make a donation.

Yeah, what a great way of putting it succinctly as possible and powerful. So if you were in front of a non-profit board what’s one piece of advice that you would give them?

I think the most important thing that board members have to understand is that we invented nonprofits for a reason and the reason is it’s okay to fail that if it had to work then you would be a for-profit company that had to make its dividends. But the entire reason we have non profits is we don’t know how to solve this problem. We don’t know how to educate kids. We don’t know how to make more entrepreneurs in Nairobi. We don’t know how to solve this health problem.

If we knew we would have solved it already. You’re here because we want you to be scientists to explore to apply a series of steps to a problem until the problem goes away and too often nonprofits once they get past five people become defenders of the nonprofit as opposed to eager scientists willing to figure out yet another way the problem can’t be solved. As we work our way to the pot way it can be solved so creating tension is actually a good thing the tension of this might not work the tension of you can’t work here anymore because your posture doesn’t match our posture the tension of making a donor uncomfortable with what you’re about to do next because there are no comfortable problems left to be solved. All we’re left with are the uncomfortable ones.

Yeah, it’s a good point I think nonprofits are often fearful of taking risks.

They’re afraid of taking risks because they think their donors might not be happy if they fail. So how do they, how do we get board members and nonprofits, in general, to feel more comfortable taking those risks and of course explaining those risks to the donors?

Well you know that means that every nonprofit needs to be aware of is the national lampoon cover from the 1970s that said by this magazine or will shoot this down and the reason that it’s such a powerful cover besides the fact it’s funny is the certainty involved. Don’t buy the magazine would kill the dog buy the magazine the dog goes free and nonprofits have gotten sucked into an easy trope which is give us money we will solve the problem. Switch your light bulbs global warming will go away.

That we’ve hooked one thing to the other for sure and it’s interesting the way we sidestep it so we don’t have fundraisers to cure breast cancer anymore we have breast cancer awareness as if awareness is the problem.

Right so we use all these weasel words instead of saying there is a problem over there do not avert your eyes people like us look at this problem and then people like us sign up enroll to go down a pathway to solving it then when we can say to our donors this is difficult this isn’t going to happen tomorrow but we will do it together.

We have a credit card to go fail but if we say to people clock’s ticking we’re going to solve this problem in an hour well then of course you’re stressed because you just promised people that there was no risk when in fact there is no risk to donating there is a risk to committing to solving it.

By a given day we can’t do that except for the endless emergency of poverty which is why there is way too much focus on give us a bag of rice so this kid won’t die today they’ll die tomorrow.

That’s a dead end we know that so what we’ve become as we get more sophisticated at this hour people who are willing to do the hard work of telling a donor the truth about where we’re going to go next because the best stories are true stories.

That is such a good reminder for all board members and fundraisers to take the long view and to be as honest as they can obviously with all of their donors.

Good, let’s change topics for a minute and talk about what would you say to Millennials or the new fundraisers entering the profession or the nonprofit sector? What advice would you have to young people who want to join a nonprofit ranks?

Well here’s the good news. If you can raise money you’re never going to have trouble getting a job. That’s now true more than anything. I can think of indoor labor more than any indoor job. I can think of people who can raise money will never need to worry about a job so the question is how do you raise money?

Rre you just dialing for dollars from a list of strangers? Are you putting in mail to people who don’t want to get it? Spamming the world because if you do that you’re interchangeable replaceable cog? That’s not the way you become a great fund raiser. The way great fundraising is done is by connecting the disconnected. By organizing tribes of people who want to hear from each other and you’re at the center of it.

When you can deliver anticipated personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them. When you are the drum major who is keeping the people in sync. Not all people just your people.

Raising money isn’t a hassle it’s a privilege for these people to give you money because here’s the big homerun to remember. Anytime someone gives you $50 they are only doing it because they’re getting $75 worth of value out of giving you $50. Because if it wasn’t they wouldn’t do it.

That’s right so when you think about it that way you realize that what you’re doing is you’re having a 50% off sale that when you show up and say you can feel good for $50, they’re saying this is great. Because I just got $75 with the value and when you think of it that way how dare your not reach out.

That’s right it’s such a good way of putting it. I always like to say that fundraising isn’t about arm-twisting. It’s not about begging. It’s about finding people who believe in the same causes you do to invest in your community and a cause. Exactly.

Last question. You’re here because you are going to be the keynote at the AFP international conference so I was wondering if you would give us one tip or highlight from your speech that’s coming up in a few hours.

I guess I would remind people that we have all become weird that the normal distribution with the big bulge in the middle of the people who give to the United Way and the Boy Scouts. That mass stuff for mass audiences doesn’t work for hotels it doesn’t work for political candidates and it doesn’t work for fundraising anymore. That the curve is melting that people given a choice take a choice. That on iTunes or Netflix or anywhere they get a choice they take a choice and so making average stuff for average people doing an average Gala for average people making an average pitch to average people isn’t going to scale anymore.

We’ve got to find the edge cases the people who care the people who through their actions have already indicated this is something they are dying to get involved in. Those people are worth all of our time let the average people deal with someone else.

Great thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it for the work you do. All right thank you.

Now it’s your turn to share I hope you’ll join the discussion and help others by leaving a comment below did this video inspire you to try something new do you have an example or story to share do you agree or disagree with today’s advice if so please let me know in the comments and if you found this video helpful be sure to share it with your friends and followers. 

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