5 Fundraising Tips Inspired by Taylor Swift

It’s that time of year once again: It’s Grammy Awards time!

Okay, I really don’t care. However, it got me thinking about the sustained success of mega-star Taylor Swift, one of the 2015 nominees. Leading into this Grammy season, Swift has already earned 7 Grammy Awards, 12 Billboard Music Awards, 11 Country Music Association Awards, and 7 Academy of Country Music Awards, among others. She has sold over 30 million albums and 80 million digital single downloads.

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift

Despite the fact that Swift is a hugely successful music star, I’m not really a fan. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I dislike her music. It’s just that I’m not her target demographic. Nevertheless, I have enormous respect for her talent, work ethic, and philanthropic spirit.

A number of things have led to Swift’s success. We can model some of these behaviors to be even more effective fundraising professionals. Here are just five tips for you that are inspired by Taylor Swift:

1. Treat everyone well. Swift has a reputation for being nice. Unlike some stars, she doesn’t have to employ a public relations firm to try to convince the public she’s a good person. She genuinely is. The 25-year-old is a generous supporter of arts education, children’s literacy, the American Red Cross, and other charitable endeavors.

Swift is also a friendly neighbor. When neighbor and actress Hayden Panettiere needed to borrow a guitar, Swift loaned her one of her special instruments.

Swift is also good to service people, and does not take them for granted as so many other celebrities do. For example, during a tour stop in Philadelphia, she treated her entourage to a late-night, traditional southern Italian dinner at Ralph’s Restaurant. Swift tipped $500 on an $800 check, posed for photos with fans, and gave the chef a pair of tickets to the following night’s show so he could attend with his autistic 11-year-old son.

I’m sure Swift has her bad days. However, she seems to consistently strive to be kind to people, whether fellow celebrities or common folk.

As a development professional, you need to build solid relationships in order to achieve fundraising success. Being nice to everyone you encounter is a good place to start.

2. Develop your skills. Swift did not arrive on the planet a fully formed musician. She may have some natural talent. However, that natural talent would have gone to waste if it were not developed. From age 11, she took vocal and acting lessons. She seized performing opportunities at fairs, coffee houses, karaoke contests, and other less-than-glamorous venues to develop her skills.

As a development professional, you need to continue your education and look for opportunities to practice your skills. You should strive to become a stronger and stronger fundraiser. You’ll be of greater value to your organization, and you’ll enjoy greater career satisfaction. The upcoming AFP International Fundraising Conference is just one great educational opportunity.

3. Know what’s on the mind of your target audience. Swift’s success is largely due to her understanding of what concerns her target audience, mostly teenage girls. Her songs about boy-trouble and girl power resonate with her market.

As a development professional, you need to understand what’s on the minds of your prospects and donors. You need to understand what motivates and de-motivates them. You need to know what inspires them to support your organization. You’ll learn all of this if you talk with your prospects and donors, survey them, and give them opportunities to provide feedback. With the knowledge you will gain, you’ll be able to craft cultivation and solicitation strategies that will resonate.

4. Tell stories. Swift is a masterful storyteller. She brings listeners into her world to experience her angst, her pain, her joy. Many of her songs do this by telling a story; it’s her country music roots.

As a development professional, you need to be a good storyteller, also. Stories help prospects and donors visualize the cause far better than a mere recitation of statistics. Stories also stir the emotions. I guarantee you that Swift has never and will never write a song about how many guys have broken her heart. Instead, she’ll sing you a vivid song about one particular guy. Follow her example.

5. Be courageous and embrace change. Swift initially achieved success in the country music world. While she has enjoyed crossover support from fans, her style remained largely country. That was until the release of her current album. 1989 is definitely a pop, not country, record. Making the transition involved risk. However, that risk was rewarded when the album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 list with first week sales of 1.3 million copies. She also earned additional Grammy nominations.

As a development professional, you need to be courageous and willingly embrace change when it has the potential to significantly benefit your organization. For example, don’t be afraid to adapt your message to reach out to new potential supporters. Remember, if it were not for risk-taking change-agents, we’d all still be living in caves. It’s also worth remembering the words of Nelson Mandela:

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

If you want to achieve more, choose someone who has enjoyed great success and model your behavior after his or her actions. You won’t go wrong if you start by embracing your inner Taylor Swift.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

12 Responses to “5 Fundraising Tips Inspired by Taylor Swift”

  1. Thanks for this piece. Your points are familiar; illustrating them through Taylor Swift’s success adds a new facet and an easy visual to remember them.

    • Madeline, thank you for letting me know this post resonated with you. Stepping outside of our day-to-day situation to look at things through a different lens can bring greater clarity. It’s also a great way to stimulate creative thinking. Plus, it’s kind of fun.

  2. Michael, one of the things I like most about your blogs is that you are always doing these great comparisons. This one had great insight. Thanks. — Lyn Watner

    • Lyn, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’m glad to know you enjoyed this post. Sometimes, it’s easier to grasp old ideas or learn new concepts if we step out of our own environment for a moment. It also helps us look at things from a different perspective which gets the creative juices flowing.

  3. Some great advice. Tell your stories well and engage the constituent. That’s half the battle.

    • Steve, thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’re exactly on target. Engagement with prospects and donors is key. Unfortunately, most nonprofit organizations simply have a transactional relationship with donors; fundraisers who foster such relationships are beggars not development professionals; they’re also the reason that the median donor retention rate is so terrible.

  4. Michael, nice job on this post. As you know, I have written my opinion of Ms. Swift and used her as a subject of one of my own posts. Surprisingly, we are not alone in this endeavor. As you said in your response to my post, “Go With What You Know,” great minds do think alike.

  5. Great piece, Michael. Will you be at the AFP International Fundraising Conference? If so, would love to meet you in person there.


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