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In a crowded nonprofit fundraising space, how do you help your organization define its value?

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Fiesha Lynn Bell, Sarah Malchow and Robyn McGill weighed in on this topic at the inaugural Meaningful Edges event.

Donors have many choices when it comes to giving money, time or talent to causes they care about. The challenge for nonprofits is communicating their values in ways that resonate with donors. According to the panelists, nonprofit leaders must develop deep, long-term relationships with donors, leverage personal and emotional connections and think of the organization as a community resource.

A Donor-Centric Perspective

Sarah stressed the importance of defining value from a donor-centric lens. This first requires an articulated narrative about the nonprofit's purpose and impact. From there, organizations can start developing deep and long-term relationships with donors.

"We want those to be not transactional but really symbiotic relationships with our donors,” she said.

Engaging donors as partners and stakeholders is another way to create shared value, making them as much of an advocate and fundraiser as the organization’s staff.

“The moment they care about your cause, your budget and your need as much as you do is the moment the magic happens because you're not just defining value, you are defining shared value with that donor," she said.

Creating Emotional Connections

Robyn shared valuable insights into how the Alzheimer’s Association has successfully carved out a niche within the crowded nonprofit sector. By focusing exclusively on the disease, the association has become a leading nonprofit funder of Alzheimer's research on a global scale.

She shed light on the importance of casting a wide net to engage potential donors, considering the stigma associated with the disease.

“There are a lot of folks who are impacted but don't raise their hand and say, ‘I have this. I need help,’” she said.

While the Alzheimer’s Association has worked hard over the past 30 years to define who it is and what it does, Robyn said the association's approach goes beyond simply appealing for support; it aims to involve donors on a heartfelt level, allowing them to connect with the cause personally.

“It goes a little bit deeper. We find that our support really does come from the heart,” she said.

The Alzheimer’s Association finds that support really comes from the heart, which is evident at their annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s events across the country.

Being a Resource and a Tool

Fiesha highlighted the Greater Milwaukee Foundation's status as the largest funding agency in Wisconsin and its value proposition as "everyone's community foundation." With extensive reach and a solid connection to various stakeholders, the foundation is a valuable resource for donors and the community alike.

 "That's a value add of the foundation…we don't just ask for money; we also are a resource and a tool," she said.

She highlighted the foundation's concerted efforts to ensure all staff members effectively communicate this value proposition. By doing so, they demonstrate that the foundation is not solely seeking financial support but is also committed to providing support and resources to the community at large.

Read the next discussion topic or return to the main article.

Jennifer Sodo , AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Senior Living Market Leader

Jennifer is a Senior Living Market Leader in our Living Environment Studio in the Milwaukee office. Her inspiration for design stems from people and their stories.

Dan Schindhelm, AIA
Project Manager

Dan is a Project Manager for EUA in the Living Environments Studio in the Madison office. His role allows him to take part in a collaborative way, working with the Living Studio to schedule, budget and design requirements. Dan enjoys taking part in outdoor activities with his wife and two young children.