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Perhaps you’ve noticed the political postcards have recently given way to an entirely new campaign:  solicitations for tax-deductible contributions from nonprofit organizations looking to tap into our charitable, year-end mindset.

Why so much solicitation? According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the U.S. as of August 2012 – and they are all competing for donor dollars.

So it’s not surprising that the “year-end ask” has become as ubiquitous as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It also has recently inspired Giving Tuesday – a noble concept that seems strategically misplaced on the heels of the nation’s biggest spending days – in hopes there’s something left in the consumer wallet to support the greater good.

It all points to a bigger question:

How can nonprofits connect effectively with prospective donors who might already suffer from donor fatigue and seasonal spending?

Nonprofits can benefit from the same separation strategy we advocate that startups need to employ with angel investors and venture capital firms: Stop selling. Be Compelling. 

Following are three ways nonprofits can better attract and retain a loyal donor base:

1. Demonstrate credibility & expertise.

Entrepreneurs must demonstrate talent and expertise by identifying real business problems and proposing viable solutions. When they do it effectively, investors acknowledge the solutions but invest in the people who can execute solutions. If you’re relying on track record alone or past successes, it’s time to rethink how your people – the experts championing your cause – are driving successful outcomes.

2. Be open & transparent. 

Investors demand regular metrics from entrepreneurs to see if they are delivering on their promise – and donors should expect the same. Are you making it easy for donors to understand your impact? Is data relegated solely to your annual report? Are tools like Charity Navigator being used for actual decision making or validation of what you’ve shared? Proactively share your impact on both the financial and compassion meter regularly with your audience and take ownership for all that you do – even as you grow and learn to do it better.

3. Tell compelling stories.

Who you are, what you do, why you matter and why your organization is worthy of being funded needs to be part and parcel of every startup and nonprofit story. But compelling storytelling goes far beyond these essentials. Remember, your organization is responsible for raising awareness as well as funding in effort to directly change lives and the way people live. So get personal. Share insights from individuals who benefit from or impact your organization’s work. Leverage video to bring those real stories to life for the donor.  And strike a balance between successes and the emotional reality of what you’re facing – as that is the reality of your organization’s challenge. As you tell authentic and compelling stories, existing and prospective funders can clearly recognize that meaningful progress is being made while never losing sight of a need that demands greater attention.

By shifting to a “compel rather than sell” mindset, nonprofits demonstrate to donors that they have more than just a feel-good, seasonal reason to be charitable and receive a tax benefit. They’re getting invested in a cause – and group of people – committed to making an impact.

 Your organization’s story is unique. How are you making it compelling?

Thad DeVassie is the founder of Ratchet Strategy + Communication, a communication consultancy focused on helping organizations articulate their value proposition, differentiate their brand and engage their audiences. Follow Thad on Twitter @ratchetstrategy.

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