Beyond Donor Giving Levels, Productize Your Fundraising Appeals

I attended an event hosted by the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Spokane (RMHC of Spokane). During this event, the organization used a very strategic fundraising technique. For reasons I will describe later, I believe this technique is a best practice.

Donor giving levels in practice (live pledge auction)

After food was served, the organization began an appeal called the “Call for the Cause.” The “Call for the Cause” is an auction style appeal that asks event attendees to contribute at different giving levels.

The levels of giving started at $12,000 and continued at different increments in descending order down to $100 ($1,000, $500, $250, etc.). At each giving level, an auctioneer announced the giving level and called out as donors raised auction cards to donate.

While this was a fun and energetic appeal, the format of this appeal wasn’t the element that grabbed my attention. It was the appeal’s messaging that grabbed my attention.

At each giving level the auctioneer explained what the giving level amount meant for the families that stay at the house (i.e. the people RMHC of Spokane serves). Each giving level didn’t represent a dollar value. Each giving level represented a number of nights that a guest of the house could stay at no charge.

This is significant because the house’s motto is to provide no-cost lodging for guest families. For example the $12,000 giving level supported one family for an entire year. The appeal offered a number of levels of support for families staying at the house in increments of months, weeks, and days.

What interested me about this appeal’s message was the way the organization went beyond generic giving levels and created “products” with its mission.

We generally don’t think about mission in terms of products because the mission of a nonprofit organization can be intangible.

I believe that a nonprofit’s mission can be turned into products, and using products in fundraising messages is a best practice.

Why “mission products” work

Let’s describe why this works by describing the alternative.

We are all familiar with generic giving levels (i.e. levels of contribution that represent monetary donations to an organization). Generic giving levels are commonly used in fundraising appeals.

For example, instead of asking for contributions to support the guest stays of families in the house, RMHC of Spokane could have asked for unconnected contributions. They could have asked for funds to support “the organization.” Instead of asking for $1,000 for one month of nights for a family, they could have asked, “who would like to contribute $1,000 to RMHC?”

It is very hard to visualize, connect, and grab onto giving when it is unconnected to specifics. Donors don’t know what they are giving to or how their gift is making an impact; and all donors want to know their gift is making an impact. That is the purpose of giving!

“Productizing” your fundraising appeals simplifies the message for donors.

It also roots the “act of giving” in something tangible, comparable, and specific, not something general.

Your mission should have certain measurable outputs, outcomes, or impact. The results of your mission are something donors can contribute toward and support. Instead of supporting the “idea” of your mission, with mission products you give donors an opportunity to support something “real.”

Giving donors the opportunity to contribute toward results in this way is important because donors want to make a difference. The best way for them to make a difference is to know that their contributions of time, money, and knowledge are going toward “real impact.”

Productizing your fundraising message gives donors an applied message that allows them to immediately quantify, determine value, and comprehend what their contribution does for the community.

How and where to apply “mission products”

Step 1: Define your results

The first step to productizing your fundraising appeals is to determine what your organization does. From there you need to uncover the true and factual results that come from the hard work you do in the community. These results may be outputs, like the example in this post. Room nights are an output of the services offered by RMHC of Spokane.

You may also have specific outcomes that result from your programs and services. For example, you increase the likelihood that at-risk youth graduate high school by 70%. Or you may have long-term impact that can be measured and proven.

Regardless of the form, you need to uncover the true value of your organization and how you are making a difference.

Step 2: Attach a value to your results

The second step is to apply your organization’s results to a quantifiable monetary value. It takes funds (money) to produce program and service outputs, outcomes, and impact. As a result, you can quantify what it takes to achieve these benchmarks.

The combination of the results of your mission with a quantifiable monetary value constitutes your “mission product.” Your donors can now contribute to this tangible product of your mission.

Step 3: Position your “mission products” where donors can see them

The third step is location, location, location. You need to meet donors where they are at.

One great example is your online donation form. I have personally witnessed great online donations forms that tie donation amounts to actual outputs, outcomes, and impact.

You can use mission products to simulate the same experience of buying a product online (for example: $30 to plant one tree, $50 to plant two trees, or $250 to plant 10 trees). Instead of a form that contains a blank line where donors are expected to determine their desired giving level without any help, give them “specific” levels of giving that associate with specific outputs, outcomes, or impact of your mission.

Connect donors with your mission

I was very excited by RMHC of Spokane’s use of mission products in their “Call for the Cause” appeal. Productizing your fundraising message is a great way to connect with donors, make giving more tangible (even though mission may be intangible), and give donors the opportunity to really understand, feel, and connect with the impact their gifts make in the world.

Go beyond generic donor giving levels and offer donors a tangible product they can contribute toward!