What is the difference between fundraising and sales?

publication date: Jul 3, 2018
author/source: Lelia MacDonald

What is the difference between fundraising and sales?

In for-profit companies that sell business-to-business, their sales departments will look similar to a charity’s fundraising department. There will be a group of sales people with a portfolio of clients. They will have annual targets. They will manage long lead times before they can close a sale. They need to follow up to encourage repeat business.

The skills of a great sales person are similar to a great fundraiser. They both need great people skills. They both need to be organized to juggle a portfolio of clients/donors. They both need resilience to overcome rejections. How is fundraising different from sales?

Fundraising is harder

1. The messages used to “close the sale” are different.

In the for-profit sector, salespeople compete on product features. Because the purchaser uses the product (or is closely connected to the user), their purchase decision is based on product features. To close the sale, a salesperson shows how the product will help them. When a small business owner buys new software … work will get done faster … which means she can accept more customers … which will make her more money. The emotional message is directly tied to the product feature.

In the nonprofit sector, fundraisers compete on emotion. The donor is completely disconnected from the user of your service. They don’t know each other and they don’t understand each other. They could live in different countries. Service recipients usually receive the service for free. When asking a donor to donate, a fundraiser appeals to the emotional needs of the donor. Do they have a family member affected by the cause? Are they grateful for the education they learned at university? Do they want to memorialize a family member? Yes, a donor will want reassurance that you will use their money wisely, but specific product features are irrelevant.

2. Fundraisers have more competition

When selling a service, your competition is limited to other entities that supply your service. When asking for a donation, a fundraiser’s competition is now the 85,000 registered charities going after the same pool of donors.

Fundraising is easier

Try selling a lousy product. Or selling a service that people really don’t need. That can destroy your soul.

But when you fundraise for a purpose that truly helps others, that is inspiring.

Lelia MacDonald is a Volunteer Consultant with MAS (www.masadvise.org) - a pro bono management consulting charity. For 25 years, the retired professionals at MAS have helped over 1,300 nonprofits and charities become more efficient in governance, strategy, HR, marketing and fundraising. Apply to MAS today.

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