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“Marketing is facilitating an exchange between two parties for a product, service, or idea.”

That is one of the most memorable academic lessons I learned while an undergraduate business student at the University of North Carolina.  I learned that while in an introductory marketing course some 38 years ago and I can still recite it word for word today.  That was a powerful lesson!

But what does it mean to me in the fundraising career that I have chosen?  How is it relevant?  Is fundraising like sales?  Here are some important lessons I have learned about this topic:

  • Facilitating an exchange between two parties for a product, service or idea.

For me, this is one of the great things about our country.  Americans are incredibly generous and philanthropic.  Individuals want to make a difference with their giving.  In fundraising, donors do not receive a tangible gift – a television, a house, etc. – in return for a philanthropic gift.  They don’t receive a service – a trip, cable services, etc.  What they receive in basically in exchange for a gift is the belief and understanding that their philanthropy will bring about positive change and transformation.  Sure, the donor will receive tax credits if eligible and there are other factors that motivate charitable giving, but at the end of the day the donor wants to give back and make a difference.  So, fundraising is “facilitating an exchange between two parties for a social good.”  That is pretty powerful stuff!!

  • Listening to Your Potential Donors

A very valuable lesson for all salespeople or fundraisers is the importance of listening to your potential clients or donors.  Understanding the interests of your donors, what types of things do they want to do with their philanthropy, what was the impact of your organization in their lives, etc. is so important in understanding the motivation of what will drive them to give to your organization.  I believe listening is one of the most overlooked skills in any fundraiser.  One of my favorite examples of listening is when I would visit with a CEO of a very large bank and he would talk for 59 minutes of an hour meeting!  When that happened I knew it was a good meeting.  And be genuine with your listening.  Really take an interest in what you are hearing.  Being sincere and interested is an important quality to being a successful fundraiser.

  • Connecting the donor’s interest with your organization’s offerings

After you have learned of your donor’s interests through your adept listening skills, look to find the right “match” between what your donor is interested in and what in your organization you provide to bring about that social good.  In a University setting, donors are often interested in giving to people and programs.  Perhaps it’s a scholarship to provide critical resources to allow the incoming student to attend your university.  Perhaps its support to provide for the retention of outstanding faculty.  Again, look for that match in your organization to bring about the “facilitating an exchange between two parties for a product, service, or idea!”