When Donors are Consumers

on in Fundraising

There’s a world of difference between purchasing a service (no matter how satisfied the customer), and making a charitable contribution to help the world experience that activity.

A recent NY Times article on the Y’s new advertising campaign – “Beyond ‘Gym and Swim’” – discusses the public’s misconception about the role of the Y as a health club vs. its mission of community service.

In the case of the Y, this perception results in thousands of dollars in lost fundraising revenue – hence the Y’s new public service campaign, TV ads, digital news spots, etc.

But what are the lessons for the rest of us? 


Donor motivation (the wish to make the world a better place) is distinct from consumer motivation (desire for a high quality experience). Many nonprofits whose primary donor market is participants (performing arts spaces, educational institutions, services for the elderly) mistake the two, and then wonder why their participants aren’t giving in greater numbers.

But your attendees can love your programs – as purchasers; yet not plug into your institution as a donor/investor.

In fact, sometimes it’s even harder to reorient from being a satisfied customer – how someone experiences their time at the theater; to a donor – one who feels personal responsibility for helping others to have the experience they’ve just had.

It takes rebranding, just as the Y is doing – into something larger than simply a high-quality product. And then messaging that rebranding over and over again – because the necessity of reorienting people is, sometimes, actually harder than introducing them to the organization as a donor in the first place.

This even holds true when reaching out to family members of attendees, as in a senior center. “My mother receives a service,” goes the reasoning – and perhaps she pays $5 for it. Is that the full cost? Of course not. But is she – or her family members – concerned that others are able to receive that same activity at a discounted rate? Not necessarily.

They’re concerned that the activity meets her needs (as well they should be); and their thinking stops there.

It’s up to those of us concerned with raising the funds to make that subsidized service possible, to make the larger case, as the Y is now doing. Through TV spots and mass media, with the Y’s reach – or simply through brochures, posters, mailings, and website messaging, for the rest of us.




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