Fundraising Lessons from Buddy The Elf

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Let’s be real. “Elf” is one of the best Christmas movies. It’s up there with A Christmas Story and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Buddy the Elf is the kind of person I secretly want to be sometimes — he’s friendly, enthusiastic, and can apparently exist entirely upon candy canes and candy corns without getting cavities.

He’s also got some habits that would be excellent to cultivate if you’re a fundraiser. Here are a few fundraising lessons we can learn from him.

Get to Know Your Donors Really Well, Even The Little Details

Buddy the Elf would get to know your donors really well. You should, too! I don’t mean get to know them in a broad sense, like understanding trends and behaviors (although you should do that, too). What makes your donors tick? Why do they give to you? How do they like to be spoken to? What will make them happy to support you? What’s their favorite color?

You might be able to leave off that last bit, but you get the idea.

Show Your Donors You Love Them

Yelling “I love you! I love you! I LOVE YOUUUU!” probably isn’t the best way to show your donors you love them — yelling can be off-putting — but loving your donors is an important part of the fundraising equation. Their contributions make your programs possible, and retaining current donors is more financially efficient than recruiting new ones. Often, though, nonprofits emphasize attracting new donors more than they emphasize keeping existing ones.

Take a leaf from Buddy’s book and show your donors that you love them. Start with hand-written thank-you notes and great receipts and online content, then move from there. The Internet is full of amazing ways to show your donors how much you appreciate them. How can you knock their socks off?

Give Donors a Reason to Smile

A while ago, Rory Green wrote an article about Pandora’s box and how we can apply its moral to fundraising.  She said:

Emotions are one of the best tools a fundraiser has. If you aren’t triggering emotions and making your donor feel something, you might be in the wrong business.

The lesson from Pandora’s story is this: emotional triggers are even more powerful when they are contrasted and paired together… Tom Ahern calls this the “emotional twin set” – when you put together two powerful emotional triggers: one negative: fear, anger, disgust – and one positive: hope, optimism, compassion.

Your donors love to smile. Smiling’s their favorite. Their decision to give is fueled by their desire to turn a negative into a positive. Make your donors smile by establishing a need to make the world a better place, then showing them how their support will help do that.

Celebrate Your Victories, No Matter How Small

Fundraising is fun, but it can be really challenging. A fundraiser’s job is never over — there’s always another campaign, another gala, another letter to send. That’s why celebrating small victories is important. Taking some time to acknowledge successes is a great way to stave off burnout, keep your spirits high, and keep yourself in a positive mindset.

Equally as important is accepting failure and learning from it. Every failure should be seen as an opportunity to grow and improve, but we don’t have a .gif of Buddy encouraging people who made a terrible cup of coffee and telling them they’ll get it right next time.

We’re sure he would, though.

Your Donors Will Know If You’re Not Being Transparent

The odds of one of your donors confronting you about your transparency (or lack thereof) and accusing you of lying (and/or smelling like beef and cheese) are slim. But donors are increasingly concerned with financial transparency from the nonprofits they choose to support, and they’re not willing to donate to nonprofits who are less than clear about how they use their money.

Imagine your donors are like Buddy. They want honesty. They want transparency. They don’t want fake Santas. And they want to know that their money is being used wisely. They won’t accuse you of sitting on a throne of lies if you’re not transparent… but they won’t donate to you, either.

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