Spend enough time in the nonprofit sector, and eventually you’ll run into one of the most destructive foes of effective fundraising:
Bizsplaining, a fantastic term I first heard from Allison Carney and Vu Le, is defined by Allison as “talking to nonprofit staff like they have never operated a blender, let alone worked successfully in their underpaid, understaffed, and completely vital position for years.”
Here’s some warning signs you may have a bizsplainer on your hands – and some practical tips on how to productively redirect their well-intentioned energies.
They emphasize head over heart
I’ve worked with a lot of donors from the financial and tech sectors over the years, and yes, many of them do see themselves as investors rather than donors, and they often seek a strong business case when aligning themselves with an organization.
However - every single one of them was initially attracted to the cause by their heart (whether they like to admit they have one or not).
There was always an initial emotional connection – whether they lost someone they loved to heart disease, felt a powerful empathy for women and children fleeing abuse, or had an experience at their university that changed the course of their life, I will guarantee it was their heart that led them to engage with you in the first place.
In these cases, it’s not head OR heart – it’s head AND heart.
They see a sales approach as superior to a fundraising approach
I’ve got news, folks.
Great fundraising and great sales are the same thing.
The people who are most successful at sales build great relationships with their prospects, taking the time to understand their needs, and what motivates them.
They ask a lot of great questions, and know how to listen deeply.
Great salespeople use effective storytelling to connect with their prospects on an emotional level.
They understand the value of great customer care in ensuring repeat business with their company.
Hmmmmm – any of this sound familiar, fellow fundraisers?
We share a lot of common ground with sales professionals – in fact, folks in sales may have a lot to learn from us fundraisers.
They think you need to raise awareness first, and fundraise later
Bizsplainers often lead our organizations to spend way too much time and energy wringing our hands about the people who don’t know about us.
There's a widespread myth that fundraising success is directly correlated with the level of awareness the general public has of your organization.
The reality is, fundraising success is not predicated on awareness.
If most small to mid-sized shops (and, to be frank, a lot of larger ones too) just took those same awareness raising energies and applied them to their major gift fundraising, or their donor retention efforts, I’d wager they’d see ten times the results.
How do I work effectively with a bizsplaining volunteer?
I believe even the most hardened bizsplainer can be rehabilitated. They can be great allies if you can redirect their energies, and get them onside to advocate for something that will really move the needle on your fundraising results.
Try to make a strong business case to get them focused on what really matters – for example, show them the numbers that support an investment in donor retention, or help them understand the lifetime value of a donor’s contributions when you’re looking at the ROI of donor acquisition costs.
Finally, you can think about bringing in some external expertise to help you get everyone pointed in the right direction.
As the late Mo Davies, a beloved mentor of mine, used to say: an expert carries a briefcase and comes from more than ten miles away. Meaning, you may well have a ton of internal fundraising expertise on your team – but sometimes, it’s just easier for your leadership team to hear the same message from someone outside your organization.
What are some of your pro tips for working with a bizsplainer? Have you been able to get a bizsplainer on side to advocate for a strategic investment in fundraising thanks to a strong business case? I’d love to hear about your successes – or your challenges, if you just need to vent! Leave a comment below, or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.