What does your attention cost?
I was reading an article in Sunday’s New York Times about the cost of our attention. The author’s point was that in today’s world, our attention – our mind-space – has become commodified. Ads at the checkout line, logos in every possible space – they’re filling our eyes and ears and demanding our attention. And all for some company’s profit.
I read, nodding. I understand the value of quiet (or focus… I do work with music on) for just thinking. The best thinking only happens when we have our brains to ourselves. It’s precious today.
What about us?
Then I thought about what we do. And wondered – are we part of the problem? We ask for people’s attention every day.
But we use our powers for good, not evil, right?
If we stopped sending letters and emails, the void would be filled with more commercial appeals. And it’s not about who shouts loudest. Though out-shouting the competition might be part of it. (That lovely woman won’t give to you if she doesn’t know you exist.)
Human attention spans are now shorter than a goldfish’s. So what’s the key to being seen and heard in our cacophonous world? How do we attract a donor or prospective donor’s attention long enough to get a response?
This article suggests the answer to our disappearing attention spans is to be quick about it. (See numbers 2 and 3.) Match your speed to the span. Say what you have to say quickly.
But experience (and smart people like Jeff Brooks) teaches us longer letters generally get a better response than shorter letters. So I can’t agree short and fast is always the right answer.
Where is your focus?
I think part of the answer is focus and intent. A sure-fire way to be seen as charming is to shut your mouth, open your ears and pay attention to the other person.
Most of us probably communicate too little, not too much. But we have to earn the attention we want. What we say to our donors has to be relevant – to their lives, not just to our needs and our schedules.
Are we writing about ourselves, our organizations? Or are we writing about the donor? Her interest in the cause, her desire to help, her need to hear she matters?
If we want someone’s attention, we need to remember our causes aren’t the stars. The people we’re writing to are. Or might want to be. If we’re going to ask for their precious attention, we’d better be ready to make it worthwhile.
That means making it all about them.
Stories reward your attention
The other day, I admitted to a friend that I’d been struggling to focus. I was lost in too much multi-tasking – too busy to get anything done. And as we talked, I realized another part of the answer to short attention spans might be stories.
Here’s what I mean. I’ve usually got a great fiction escape at hand. But right now I don’t and I think I’m missing that. A great book offers me something little else does today. Diving into a story means I can put down the phone, turn off the computer and completely lose myself for a while. (I prefer stories that take me long ago or far away. They feel like a vacation.)
And that makes sense because we’re wired for stories. From the earliest days of our species, when we gathered around a fire, we’ve connected with one another by sharing stories.
Stories are powerful for fundraising. We’re primed to enjoy them. They cut through the clutter. A great story can quiet our minds and reach our hearts. And that’s really what we hope for, isn’t it?
Don’t join the noise, beat it
Don’t communicate less often. Just make sure what you have to say is meaningful to your audience. Focus on your donor or possible donor – what matters to them? How is it they solve a problem? Where’s the joy in helping?
And use stories to make your point. Make sure your donor is the hero of the story – and leave her hanging a bit. The end of the story is up to her. Will she come to the rescue?