No matter whether a product is good or bad, perception affects the ability to sell that product. This is a concept I’ve  shared with my own colleagues in an effort to discuss the importance of not only what we do but how people perceive what we do. This may seem only relevant to for profit companies, but it applies to our world of fundraising as well.

Perception about your charity matters when you are asking for money (i.e., selling). I think we all know this, but sometimes remembering it can get forgotten in the mix of carrying out the mission.  With so many hats to wear and so many plates to spin, the opportunity to take a step back and ask “how are our messages perceived?” and “What is the perception of my organization?” can get lost.

For profit companies do competitive intelligence.  They look at the competitors in the marketplace and compare and contrast their offerings to those of their competitors. Nonprofits should do the same thing.

Why? Because, there is competition in fundraising.  


Perception marketing matters in fundraising.

Perception about how you spend the money.

Perception about the effectiveness of your programs.

Perception about how important your donors are to you.

So how do you evaluate the current perception of your organization? And, how do you make sure that your buyers (donors) perceive your organization well?

Here’s four easy practices you can put into place NOW to aid in building a strong, well perceived brand:

  1. Ask people what they think.  Get some qualitative insight from both customers (donors) and non-customers (non-donors).  This can be in the form of a survey, which you can keep very simple with just a few question..  But don’t only ask those who have donated in the past, Also ask  those who have clicked on emails, but not donated.  Try to find out why.  Ask questions like: What problem do you feel we solve? What inspires you to support us? You can also ask   your own network of friends and family members.  Even ask strangers —  people you run into at the grocery store.  Have a favorite barista at your favorite coffee spot?  Show them your latest email appeal and ask them for their feedback…How do they perceive it?
  2. Put together a competitive landscape analysis for your organization.  What are other similar organizations doing?  Put together a table or a grid that compares your programs, your current perception, you “service offerings”, your split of how much goes to the cause and how much goes to administration.  Keep it current and talk about it internally on a regular basis.  I know, I know this sounds like for profit sales gamesmanship.  We don’t want to think about competition in the charitable world, because we want everyone to get a little piece of the pie, right? I mean, you and your competition are both doing amazing things for the world. But, the reality is that there is competition for donor dollars, because there is only so much to go around. Therefore, understanding the landscape and understanding where you are in the mix matters.  Being honest and regular in your evaluation about where you sit is what will help you find opportunities for improvement and growth.
  3. Be donor-centric.  The donor is always the hero, so make sure every message is centered around the donor’s ability to save the day.  People give for various reasons and one of those reasons is because it makes them feel good.  When donors perceive that they make the world go-round, they feel good and they are more likely to give again to keep feeling good about their impact. Let them be proud of this! Let them feel good.  Don’t make them feel like a number, another “rando” that was put on your org’s mailing list.  Be personal, be real in your messaging and be confident in talking to your supporters about the donor-impact versus the “staff-led impact.”
  4. Be transparent.  Tell people how you put their dollars to work.  If you feel like you already talk about this a lot, talk about it even more.  Plain and simple, donors just want to know.  If they give and never receive anything telling them how their gift was put to work, they are unlikely to give again. Donors understand that X% of the money has to go to keeping the lights on, so just explain that. It is OK.  But also explain that Y% goes to Programs A, B and C.

How do you think your donors perceive your organization? What steps will you put into place to find out and adjust this perception if necessary? I’m interested in others thoughts and experiences.  Comment below with other tips your organization uses to ensure a positive brand perception.

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