What the Primates* Taught Me

Image: Center for Great Apes
Image: Center for Great Apes

*Really it was the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance’s dedicated members

I was there to teach but as is always the case, I learned, too. It was my privilege to provide a custom training program to those attending the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) meeting in Tampa. They are a dedicated group of staff and volunteers from primate sanctuaries throughout the US and Canada. Their mission is “to advance the welfare of captive primates through exceptional sanctuary care, collaboration and outreach.” The organization is only 2 years old but active and growing. They met in Tampa for two days and discussed a variety of issues related to the care of their residents – chimpanzees, monkeys, apes – and the running of their nonprofit organizations.

As different as every organization may seem, we all face the same challenges and rewards. One of those in the group was quick to point out to me that raising money for their cause is harder than most other nonprofits. I can’t confirm or contradict that assertion. We all have challenges. Who am I to say if theirs is greater? What I can say with confidence: while it’s tough for all of us to raise money, the most critical ingredient for success is a passionate belief in the mission of the organization. What I learned from this group: they have that most critical ingredient.

According to Giving USA, animal nonprofits raise the smallest portion of funds in the US each year. Based on that data, the members of NAPSA do have unique challenges. But all donors have similar needs. By engaging qualified prospects, they will be able to raise funds and meet the needs of their residents. Each prospective donor seeks to be engaged in our missions.

Here are three keys to donor engagement:

  1. Show me – the work of these groups is very visual and provides opportunities for photos, blog posts, and social media interactions with prospects far and near.
  2. Tell me – we should examine our communications to make sure we are telling a compelling story about making the world a better place. Are we sharing our successes with donors, prospects and the world at large? Sometimes we are so close to the good work we are doing, we forget that those outside our organizations don’t get to see the progress being made.
  3. Let me – volunteer opportunities abound in our nonprofit organizations. When a person has a chance to participate in our work of changing the world, they experience the great feelings. This may be the most powerful way to convert a prospect into a donor: let them have a close-up, hands-on encounter.

At the end of our session, I was convinced that the committed and passionate people from the primate sanctuaries have great fundraising success ahead – and I’m pretty sure they believed it, too.

Originally posted on the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay blog.

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