Competition or Congestion: Which Is It?

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Fundraisers often complain about competition. So do their board members.

There are so many nonprofits.” “We’re competing with all of them to raise our share.” “It’s so hard to raise money these days.” “There’s so much competition for the donor dollar.”

I don’t agree.

The concept of competition suggests that there are limited dollars and a limited number of people. But neither is true. You can find more people who might be interested in your cause. You can ask them for gifts and some may well give if you do your job well. Some current donors will give more. Ask them. The concept of competition also suggests that everyone might be interested in your organization. That’s just silly.

I give about 10 percent of my income to charity every year. 100 percent of my estate goes to charity. But guess what? I’m not interested in most of your organizations. My dad died of cancer but I don’t give to cancer organizations. I’m not interested. I love teaching. But I don’t give much to education. I want clean air to breathe and open spaces to enjoy. But I don’t give much to the environment. I began my nonprofit career as an arts administrator. I love the arts. But I don’t give much to the arts anymore.

So you’re not competing for my money or my gifts. Always remember: people pay attention to what interests them. I pay attention to what interests me. I have certain things I want to accomplish in my life. That’s what I pay attention to. And mostly, it’s not you. So enough with the competition theory!

Thinking about competition can be an excuse for not accepting your own responsibility for doing fund development the right way and well. Thinking about competition makes your organization think it needs to reach out and educate everyone about how important the cause is. Don’t try to educate me (or anyone else). That’s insulting. Thinking about competition often causes an organization to focus on itself, putting itself at the center. Bad. Bad. Bad. You must operate as a donor-centered organization. You must find out what interests others. And lots of people (and corporations and foundations) will not be interested in your cause or organization. So, again, enough with the competition theory!

Instead, think of congestion. Ah, yes. There is certainly much congestion in the marketplace. Lots of good organizations. Lots of good fundraising. Lots of needs and opportunities. So how will your organization rise above the congestion?

First, focus on your current donors. Make sure you keep them. Clearly communicate the impact of donor gifts, the impact of donors themselves. Effectively nurture relationships and ask well. They’ll look forward to hearing from you. They’ll choose your communications out of the whole pile. You’ll rise above the congestion. You’ll keep your donors.

Second, identify those who might be predisposed to donate. I outline how to do that in detail in my book Keep Your Donors: The Guide to Better Communications and Stronger Relationships. Finding those who might be interested takes work. Involve your staff colleagues and your board members. Don’t annoy people with your outreach. Don’t presume interest (which is also annoying). Disregard competition. Focus on congestion. More importantly, focus on the donor or prospective donor.