The Benefits of Incentivizing Fundraising

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CC Photo (c) photologue_np, Flickr

Fundraising is an essential part of all projects — and it’s tough. How do you make it easier?

The answer is simpler than you might think. Fundraising is as much about research and asking the right group of people as it is about understanding basic human psychology. What are the reasons that drive a person to give money to a project that hasn’t yet been started? How do you entice people to give what they can, without the pressure of having to give “too much”?

Working in development, I am exposed to countless successful campaigns on daily basis; campaigns that solicit long-term investors in an organization or type of work, and some that look for one time gifts to support specific projects/purposes. In each instance, it takes knowing what you’re selling, and remembering one simple, and often underrated, tactic that entices people to give to a wide variety of projects: incentivizing.

As much as we may wish it were otherwise, people rarely, if ever, give something for nothing. Instead, it seems that people give for one of three reasons:

  1. They fear losing or never seeing something they love (for example, they fear a radio station will go away because they don’t donate, or they give to a film project because they fear never being able to see the movie).
  2. They want to avoid what will take the place of the current norm if they don’t give (for example, they give to a presidential candidate because they want to avoid the consequences of what will happen if the other teams loses).
  3. They give because they’re getting something in return. Exclusive content, an insider benefit, a chance to be part of a team (for example, people give to arts organizations not because there aren’t any others or the competition is scary, but because they get benefits that bring them closer to the work when they do).

Unless you’re providing a life-altering good or service, you’re going to want to entice people by giving something in return. In most situations, there is no eminent threat to people not involved in the finance side of a project of the service’s dissolution. There are constantly new forms of entertainment, education, and public services to choose from. Potential supporters aren’t going to give because what you’re creating is the only option in town (ESPECIALLY when they’re being asked by countless people to fund a slew of new projects). They’re going to want something back. Even if all you have to offer is the chance to hang out with the director, or tour a facility, or get special insider info.

Incentivizing tends to be scary because it means more up-front costs. If you don’t even have the money for your project, you can’t possibly come up with money for an investor return, right? Wrong. Access to exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of daily shoots, a chance to grab a drink with cast members at an “exclusive party,” and many other low-cost options can entice and encourage people to give.

Most of the time, people ask their family and friends for money first because they have a relationship with them. They’re already connected and want to help, already understand the project, or like being the “insider” when it comes to something up and coming. So why not expand that circle of friends? Create opportunities to build relationships through incentives, and your one-time on-the-fence supporter may become a new friend who shows back up to help again and again.

The more time you invest in a person, the more time you take to get to know them, the more likely they are to give that same time and attention back. Spend some time crafting a compelling, heartfelt pitch. Spend time creating an invitation to an event whose quality shows the event is worth something. Find a “thank you” gift that is both relevant to the project, and worth something to the supporter. You, as the organizer, should remember the old adage: give unto others what you would have them give unto you.

In the simplest of terms, you’ve got to get people to care. To show you care. To invite them to small things without donations, and then work them up. In the theatre, we call these kickbacks donor benefits. In other spheres, you may call them gifts, incentives, or thank you’s.

In the end, ask yourself: how much is a person’s support worth to you? How much is it worth to ensure that it’s recurring? Because if you aren’t willing to invest in them, how can you expect them to invest in you.


Courtney Robertson
Non-Profit Arts Administrator

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