Nonprofit fundraisers

Seth Godin’s Advice for Nonprofit Fundraisers: Overcome the Dip

Fundraising-campaign-managment / By Mike Crum

Seth Godin’s Advice for Nonprofit Fundraisers: Overcome the Dip

Nonprofit fundraising is definitely a profession for optimists. First off, you have to get used to a lot of “no’s” and “not now’s”. Second, as a fundraiser you’ve got to explore numerous strategies in an effort to engage your donors and prospects, and this requires the energy of an optimist (or someone who likes fishing!).

It’s all-too-easy to feel pessimistic at times. Whether you’re reviewing the results of an underperforming email campaign, feeling like major donors (or anyone for that matter) returns your phone calls, or trying to nail down the involvement or input from board members that seem to be ghosting you rather than assisting with fundraising.

How do you stay resilient and motivated?

Yes, thank goodness there are motivational posters for the office of ripples in a pond or a soaring eagle (slight sarcasm intended, though the photos are usually quite striking!). But what else works?

Best career advice I ever received was from an Executive Director who told me “Always celebrate the small successes.” This really rings true. Along those lines, I want to use this post to promote an ‘overlooked’ book by Seth Godin – The Dip.

Seth Godin is an amazing marketer and author – and he’s got one heck of a message for Nonprofit fundraisers in The Dip.

The Dip is a quick read, and full of amazing content that can help you build resilience. To me, the book all came down to one passage:

Influencing a market is more of a hill than a wall. You can make progress, one step at a time, and as you get higher, it actually gets easier. People in the market talk to each other. They are influenced by each other. So, every step of progress you make actually gets amplified.

Let’s unpack this!

As a fundraiser, you likely have a TON of energy, and embrace the countless blind alleys associated with raising money for your Nonprofit. But sometimes it feels like there’s a deafening silence of sorts associated with all those blind alleys, it can feel quite lonely, and it’s easy to interpret the silence as failure.

That is, it’s easy as a fundraiser to feel like you’re up a wall you just can’t get past. You’re striving to build awareness about your Nonprofit, and convert that awareness into interest, engagement, and donations. Too often there’s crickets. Silence. The wall seems insurmountable.

But the reality is – you’re not up against a wall, it’s just a hill. Yeah, sometimes a steep hill, but mistaking a hill for a wall is a huge and avoidable mistake, and can kill your fundraising program!

As a fundraiser, it’s all-too-easy to feel like Sisyphus where you feel like you’re just not making any progress. It’s too easy to  give up too early and fall down the hill and lose all the progress and actual momentum you’ve created. This is because you’re mistaking a hill for a wall, and you don’t see the value in the small victories you’re having along the way.

The big victories are not nearly as frequent as the small victories – and small victories take many shapes. Yes, your recent email appeal didn’t raise much money, but in fact you did engage your donors, which will later lead to donations. It’s a dynamic process, far from static, and you just have to realize you’re dealing with a hill, not a wall.

This illustrates where The Dip got its name. That is, to be successful in fundraising you’ve got to be able to overcome “the dip” – that barrier that separates those who try and those who succeed. Successful fundraisers navigate the dip by climbing the hill.

Short-term pain has more impact on most people than long-term benefits do, which is why it’s so important for fundraisers not to quit. This is not to say you don’t re-evaluate your strategy and abandon those donors who just aren’t responding. Staying focused on engaging your donors, the universe will yield results.

As a fundraiser you have to get past the dip – or more aptly – The Dips!


Mike Crum

Subject Matter Expert

Mike is a recognized expert, thought leader, advisor and speaker in the Nonprofit world. Over the past four decades, Mike served as an Executive Director, COO, see more

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