COMMUNICATION | Be Real: Infuse a Velveteen Rabbit Mindset into Your Fundraising

publication date: Mar 2, 2023
author/source: Rachel Zant

While the title of this article might seem a bit strange, I hope you’ll hop along with me for a moment. I’m going to share ways you can infuse more authenticity and emotion into your fundraising! This will help to raise more money and forge life-long connections with the people who are most passionate about your mission. 

In case you’re not familiar with the classic children’s story, The Velveteen Rabbit, it’s the story of a stuffed bunny rabbit who becomes a real, flesh and blood rabbit, all thanks to the deep, enduring love of a little boy. There’s a lot more to it, but for the sake of brevity, here are four key plot points in the story and how they relate to your fundraising program. 

On the shelf

The boy receives the velveteen rabbit for Christmas and plays with it for the day but then sort of forgets about it. It is put on a shelf with all the other discarded toys, and feels rather sad and lonely. 

Think of a donor the first time they make a gift to your organization. How do you treat them? Do they go up on the shelf and get ignored for a while? Or do you shower them with love and affection? Here are ways to keep the connection strong right from the beginning: 

  • Send a prompt, loving, tailored thank you letter that acknowledges how and why the donor gave and tells them what you are going to do with the gift. 
  • Report back on what you’ve done with the gift. Share compelling and inspiring stories of impact, featuring the people (kids, animals, plants) you help! Do this before you ask for money again!

Showered with love 

One day, the little boy loses the stuffed animal he’d been sleeping with, and his nanny grabs the velveteen rabbit as a replacement. From then on, the boy and the bunny are inseparable. The boy brings him everywhere. One day, he announces to his nanny that the bunny isn’t a toy… it’s REAL

This is the stage when you really connect with your donor. They’ve made more than one gift, perhaps even giving to you regularly. You are in sync with each other. It’s more like a relationship with a good friend (or a cherished bunny!). 

  • You’re in frequent communication – you check in with each other let them know how you’re doing, and you ask how they’re doing too! 
  • You share meaningful stories that show the impact of your work. Collect stories by speaking to the people who are actively involved in the work – whether it’s your CEO, program staff, donors, beneficiaries or volunteers. I can’t stress enough the power of a good interview to make fundraising appeals more compelling.
  • Ask donors to share their stories with you, or send a personal message back to your beneficiaries.
  • Communicate in an authentic and vulnerable way. Don’t send impersonal, business-like communications. Use language and formatting that is easy to read. Write in a way that inspires positive, warm and loving feelings.

Tossed away

Here comes the sad part of the story. The little boy gets sick with Scarlett fever. The bunny spends day and night beside the boy while he’s ill, wondering what is wrong. Then, just when the boy gets better, the doctor says that all the bedding – and the beloved bunny – must be thrown away.  

This is where your donor stops giving. You might categorize them as “lapsed.” You might stop communicating with them altogether, thinking they have given you up. But that could be a costly mistake! 

  • Many donors don’t consider themselves “lapsed” just because they haven’t given to you for a couple of years. Many likely still hold your mission near and dear to their heart.
  • Make sure you tailor copy to your lapsed donors. Remind them when they last gave, let them know you still love and care about them. Include a line acknowledging that their financial situation may have changed. A lot of people have been impacted by the pandemic and by inflation. 
  • Some of your donors may be living on a limited income (such as a pension), but have left you a gift in their Will. It would be wise for you to remain in contact with these highly devoted friends. 

Becoming real 

In the final chapter of the story, the bunny is rewarded for the dedication and love the little boy had for him. A magical fairy turns him into a real, live rabbit! He hops for joy and lives out the rest of his life with his rabbit friends, and even gets to visit the little boy one last time. 

This is the final, most meaningful gift your donors can give you – and that you can give your donors. You give them the ability to live on through a legacy gift. For many donors, their legacy choices reflect the things they most deeply cared about throughout their lives.  

When you cultivate a loving and authentic relationship with your donors over the long term as outlined in the first three sections, and you continue to show and share how supporting your organization supports your donors’ own deeply held values; your donors will be much more likely to leave your organization a gift in their Will. 

Have you managed to bounce along with me throughout this article? I hope it gives you a different perspective on how you can connect authentically with your donors throughout their lifetime of giving to your organization. 

Rachel Zant is a writer and fundraiser who has been helping nonprofits connect authentically with their donors for more than 20 years.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or visit her website, 


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