Trevor Bragdon is a fundraising expert and the Founder of 7-Figure Fundraising, an organization that helps nonprofit CEOs make big fundraising asks. Trevor received his Masters in Behavioral Science from the London School of Economics and has worked on over 65 different presidential, legislative, and referendum campaigns. In this episode, Trevor dives into the difference between manipulation and persuasion, how to reject the poverty mindset, and the importance of defining a big vision for big money.
Trevor and his team at 7-Figure Fundraising run four fundraising workshops every year. The two-day workshop is designed for nonprofit CEOs or development directors. It’s Trevor’s job to find nonprofits for whom the workshop is a good fit.
Master of Persuasion
Trevor says it’s hard for nonprofits to boil down exactly what they do and explain it in an accessible way — because often, they do a lot of complex things. He’s found that having an understanding of behavioral science can help you craft memorable messages that resonate with donors.
4:58 “Behavioral science is just the study of how humans make decisions, how we understand and see the world, and then using that information to kind of reverse engineer and look at what is the best way to present information so that it resonates with how we actually understand.”
For example, behavioral science helps fundraisers understand narrative structures, story arcs, how to weave stories into their pitches, and how to keep ideas simple while showing they can speak in more detail if needed.
Trevor highlights the difference between manipulation and persuasion. Manipulation occurs when you try to get someone to do something that’s against their best interest. Trevor says classic signs of manipulation include:
- Reciprocity: This can be a really good thing, but it can also be used in a negative way. That is, when humans receive something for free, even if it’s from an organization or company, they feel indebted to return the favor.
- Scarcity: Hotels will often do this when you’re booking, by showing you how many other customers are also booking at that same time. This may be framed in a dishonest way to push you to make a purchase.
On the other hand, persuasion is aligning factors to help you make a decision that is in your best interest. Trevor helps fundraisers persuade in the most effective way by understanding human behavior.
Reject the Poverty Mindset
Trevor shares that the 7-Figure Fundraising workshop distills how to fundraise major gifts — from five to seven figures — into ten fundamentals.
One of the most surprising fundamentals is to reject the poverty mindset. Trevor says the poverty mindset occurs when nonprofits get so stuck in optimizing for the short term that they don’t make smart, long-term plans.
For example, a nonprofit going through a hard time may feel like it can’t hire and pay talented staff. What happens when it gives into this poverty mindset? The nonprofit compromises and ends up hurting itself in the long-run by employing midgrade, underpaid staff. Trevor says the poverty mindset is the business owner’s version of instant gratification and distracts from your business’s overall mission.
Big Vision Before Big Money
Trevor says lots of nonprofits think if they could just get one big donation, then they could figure out something great to do with it.
23:19 “But the problem is that the people writing those large checks, the people who are these high net-worth donors, entrepreneurs typically, is: they write checks because they get inspired by a big vision.”
So, you need a big vision first in order to get big money. Trevor says major donors invest in chefs, not restaurants. Donors are more concerned with the leadership and vision of an organization than the nuts and bolts of how the vision will be accomplished. Trevor says crafting the big vision is the hard part. It takes a lot of trial and error, but it is absolutely essential.
27:46 “A big vision is where you are going as an organization and what the world looks like because you’re there.”
Focus on Revenue-Driving Individuals
Trevor calls attention to the fact that giving has become increasingly concentrated within a smaller donor group in the last 25 years. In many organizations, five to ten percent of donors give 80 to 90 percent of revenue. Trevor suggests focusing on those top donors if you want to grow your nonprofit. He says the same principle applies to businesses. Usually, a handful of customers drive the majority of revenue. If you focus on them and find more customers like them, you can expand dramatically.
Trevor’s insights highlight how these intuitive yet strategic fundamentals and an understanding of behavioral science can help both nonprofits and for-profits persuade effectively and craft and maintain a long-term vision. Don’t sell your work or ideas short — a big vision will drive big money.
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