Has Your Fundraising Lost Its Magic? Here's How to Make it Reappear


I watched one of my favorite films recently, The Prestige. Set in 19th century London, the movie depicts the rivalry of two talented magicians, played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. It’s a great movie, and has an ending I promise you’ll love.

The movie opens and ends with the words of a character named “Cutter,” who’s played by Michael Caine.

Cutter describes the three parts or acts of every great magic trick. But his description isn’t limited to illusionists who make things disappear and reappear. They are true to every field that takes something ordinary, does something extraordinary, but then has to prove that it wasn’t a fluke, a sleight of hand, and can make it reappear again.
That’s true magic.

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts.

The first part is called ‘The Pledge’. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t.

The second act is called ‘The Turn’. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back.

That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call ‘The Prestige’.

– Cutter, The Prestige (2006)

“The Prestige” of cause marketing (my area of interest but it could easily apply to fundraising as well) occurs after we take an ordinary nonprofit and for-profit partnership and turn it into something special, a cause marketing program. But executing a cause marketing program isn’t enough. You have to bring it back again and again.

Here are four tips to ensure that your first cause marketing performance isn’t your last.

Educate your partner.

Even after a successful program, don’t just assume your partner is sold on cause marketing. Continue to educate them on the merits and how others are using it effectively. My blog will help, but so too will Causerelatedmarketing.biz, Cause Marketing Forum and ForMomentum, among others.

Establish points of value.

What criteria will you and your partner use to determine the success of the program. Is it dollars raised? Employee and customer satisfaction with the effort? Or is it how well it drove sales? Or all of the above? Don’t assume your metric for success is the same as theirs. Clarify expectations at the outset and make sure they’re fulfilled. Refine and repeat.

Work their circle.

Another post I wrote on my blog addressed prospecting circles, which are comprised of supporters, contacts and suspects. You have your circle, but so does your partner. Can you tap potential partners within their circles to grow your program? You won’t know until you ask. Don’t let reticence undermine a potential growth strategy.

It’s about philanthrotunity.

Forget cause marketing. It’s a tool, like a hammer or a screw driver. And sometimes you need a wrench. With every partner it’s about uncovering what its special jewel is and how to best display it. It’s not always about money. I used to work with a large fast serve chain that supplied all of our corporate partners with pizzas as incentives and rewards for employees and stores that hit their cause marketing goals. Their jewel was rolled out in dough and covered in sauce and cheese. Nevertheless, it was solid gold for fundraising!

Most organizations are happy to do even one successful cause marketing program. But the magic happens when you can bring it back and do it again and again and again. That’s the hardest part of cause marketing–or any fundraising program.

I call it “The Prestige.”

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