Inspired by Lady Gaga: 10 Ways to be a Fundraising Genius

You might never have heard of Stefani Germanotta. Yet, she is known internationally as a top recording artist, nine-time Grammy Award winner, social activist, and philanthropist. Following the 91st Academy Awards, we now also know her as an Oscar winner.

You, as her millions of fans around the world, likely know her better as Lady Gaga.

Jesse Desjardins, when he was Social Media Manager for Tourism Australia, recognized that Lady Gaga is more than a singer. He recognized that she is even more than an entertainment genius. He understood that marketing and public relations professionals could learn from her, so he put together an interesting PowerPoint presentation, “10 Ways to be a Marketing Genius Like Lady Gaga.” When I saw the slides, I believed that fundraising professionals could also learn a great deal from her. Thanks to permission from Desjardins, I’m able to share 10 useful insights with you.

1. Have an Opinion

“Gaga regularly speaks out on issues she feels strongly about. In doing so, she keeps herself in the public eye.”

By speaking out, Gaga makes certain no one forgets her. She remains relevant. She advances the issues that she finds important. She engages her fans.

Your organization has an important mission. Let supporters and potential supporters hear about it beyond those times that you ask for money. Stay in front of them. Remain relevant. Engage people year-round while advancing your organization’s mission. Communicate about issues relevant to your organization’s mission. Ask supporters to help in ways that don’t involve giving money (e.g., volunteer, call elected officials, etc.). Share information people will want and appreciate.

2. Leverage Social Media

“Gaga has worked tirelessly on accumulating over [78] million Twitter followers and [55] million Facebook fans.”

To put that into perspective, there are only five people on the planet who have more Twitter followers. In other words, tens of millions of people want to hear what Gaga has to say, and she says things people want to hear. She speaks to people where they are.

Today, people consume information in more ways than ever before, and how they do it varies by age group. You need to be where they are if you want your message heard. Understand the demographics of your supporters and potential supporters and learn what media they consume. Then, be there with relevant, meaningful information.

3. Be Different

“Differentiate wisely. There are too many normal people doing normal things. Show, don’t tell. You are extraordinary so show it.”

You’re not alone. Unless you work for an exceedingly rare charity, others have the same or similar mission as your organization. What makes your organization special? Why should people care about your organization instead of the others that do similar things? You need to address those questions if you want to capture hearts.

4. Don’t be Afraid to Make Lots of Money

“Being starving is not fun. If making a ridiculous amount of cash is what you want to do, go for it.”

If your organization relies on donations to fulfill its mission, don’t be shy about doing what it will take to get the funds your organization needs. Don’t be afraid to ask people for money. When people ask you what you do for a living, answer them with pride.

5. Give Your Fans Something to Connect With

“Gaga calls her fans Little Monsters and gives them a shared symbol. The official Little Monster greeting is the outstretched ‘monster claw’ hand. This allows fans to identify each other and connect.”

No, you don’t need to create a secret handshake for your supporters. However, you should create a sense of belonging. People would rather join a cause, a movement for change, than simply give money to a dusty institution. Provide people with easy ways to connect with you. Give them opportunities for meaningful engagement as a way to build connection.

6. Love Your Little Monsters

“Treat them well and they will make you a superstar.”

Gaga’s fans feel appreciated. She frequently refers to and thanks her “Little Monsters.” She also gives them special perks. For example, while Gaga bans professional photographers from her concerts, she permits her fans to record her concerts and post their photos and videos on social media.

Rather than treating donors like ATMs, nonprofit organizations must engage donors as the people they are. Donors want to feel appreciated. They want to be informed and engaged. When they’re not, they’re less likely to upgrade their support. They’re also less likely to simply renew their support.

As Mark Chilutti, CFRE, Assistant Vice President of Development at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital – Jefferson Health, said in his guest post last week, “I have always believed that after working hard to secure a gift, I have to then channel that same energy into letting my donors know just how much I appreciate them and the impact that their gift has made for our patients, programs, and services.”

7. Don’t be Afraid to Piss People Off

“Some people won’t like you. Trying to be a people-pleaser just makes you boring and dry.”

It also can make you less effective. Has your boss or communications director ever told you to keep direct-mail fundraising appeals to one page? Have you gone along with that even though you know that research shows that longer letters usually raise more money? Have you ever had a major donor who would only make a gift with strings attached? If those strings were untenable, were you willing to risk upsetting the donor by refusing their offer and making a counter suggestion?

You can’t always please everyone. Sometimes, doing what is best for your organization might involve ticking off some people. Don’t be afraid to do so.

8. Have the Right People on Your Side

“Gaga has a long list of supporters. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton being one of the biggest.”

Having allies will help you magnify your message, and provide valuable advice. They’ll also help you achieve greater results. Allies might be financial advisors, local business leaders, estate attorneys, mentors, etc. As you build your network, consider how you can build support for your organization and yourself.

9. Produce Killer Stuff

“Gaga writes amazingly good pop hits.”

One of her songs, “Shallow” from the hit movie A Star is Born, just won an Oscar Award. You might not like her music, but clearly millions of people around the globe do. Not only do her fans sing her songs, they have a sense of attachment to her. Because Gaga is not afraid to share her stories of struggle and her emotions, her fans feel close to her.

Your nonprofit organization likely will not interest everyone. That’s fine. However, to attract and retain the support of people who should be interested, your organization needs to provide high-quality services, make high-quality appeals, and provide high-quality stewardship. Like Gaga, you want your work output to be memorable (for the right reasons), emotional, inspiring, and empowering. You need to touch people, not just tap their bank accounts.

10. Have a Purpose

“The Gaga brand is very calculated. Everything she does is on purpose.”

Your organization has a mission statement, right? I hope it does. And I hope you know what it says. Everything you do every day should be in support of that mission. If you’re doing something that does not help your organization fulfill its mission, stop doing it. The mission is your organization’s purpose. Stay on purpose, and help your organization avoid mission-drift.

Lady Gaga is a talented entertainer. But, there are great singers in small clubs and churches of every city. One of the reasons that Gaga has had huge success is because she’s more than an entertainer. She and her team are brilliant marketers. No, they did not invent the wheel. Their genius is that they take what works best and use it to great advantage.

To be a fundraising genius, you don’t need some new, whiz-bang technique or technology. Proven, effective communication and fundraising methods are plentiful. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, do what Lady Gaga and her team have done. Master what we already know works.

If you want more fundraising inspiration from another music superstar, read my post “5 Fundraising Tips Inspired by Taylor Swift.”

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

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