What is real?
The other day on Twitter, my friend John Lepp asked a question. What’s next after donor love and storytelling? What’s the next big thing?
People keep asking what’s next after #donorlove and #storytelling as the big #fundraising idea… is it #vulnerability and #authenticity?— 𝚓𝚘𝚑𝚗𝚕𝚎𝚙𝚙 (@johnlepp) November 17, 2019
(And this, friends, is why I love fundraising Twitter.)
John added that you can’t fake them. I love that idea.
Put yourself in a donor’s shoes. (I hope this isn’t hard to do – if we raise money, we need to understand how giving feels.) Does the communication you receive feel authentic?
I know most of what I receive does not.
Every day, there’s a pretty significant pile of mail in my box. And most of it is recognizably awful. (It’s also loud. Me! No, me! Look at me!)
Let’s talk about authenticity
For instance: acquisition packs from organizations we already give to.
Now, I know that many of these packs have been “tested” and shown to work. I’m stubborn though. I know they could be better.
I’m also jaded. I am not your average donor. I have seen behind the curtain. But nothing makes you feel like your support doesn’t matter more than getting an acquisition pack from an organization you already support.
Does no one bother checking purchased lists again house lists?
The problem is that once you expose inauthenticity, it’s hard to go back. Once you force the donor to see that maybe they don’t much matter, how can you sincerely tell them they do?
Start with values
Authenticity starts with values. Does your organization genuinely care about donors? Not about donor dollars, but about the real people who have willingly handed over their money to join your cause?
Because, as John said, it’s hard to fake that. If it’s all about the money, it will show.
- How are donors thought of inside the organization? Are they what you need to get the real work done? Or are they partners you happily embrace?
- Do you value donors enough to value good data management? To get names and giving history right – and then use that information properly?
- And – this is a tricky one – do you tell smaller dollar donors they will have the same impact as larger dollar donors?
Donors aren’t stupid. They know their $10 isn’t going to save the world by itself. Could we be authentic enough to say:
“I know you think your $10 won’t make much of a dent in this problem. But the truth is that your gift, along with the gifts of other generous people, will change things. And it’s important for us to know we have your support?”
If we value donors beyond the dollars, can’t we say that?
What about vulnerability?
Is your organization’s brand all about how good you are at what you do? Or when you mess up, are you open about it?
Are you willing to share bad news as well as good news? Or are you afraid that any weakness will cost you donors? Or that any great financial news could also cost you support?
Is your organization’s voice personal and human or shiny and corporate?
I think this is an area where smaller organizations can really shine. Maybe they haven’t learned to buff up their image at every chance yet.
One personal example for you
My husband and I heard from one small organization we support. It was founded and is run by a friend. But when we got a letter telling us that things were in bad shape – sudden illness and other things outside their control – he immediately wanted to write a check.
We didn’t think: “Oh they’re a mess, why bother?” We thought, “We’re part of this thing, and we can write a check now. So we will.”
Their willingness to share the story with donors was honest and real. It was also brave.
Are you allowed to be brave?
Can you build a fundraising program that’s human?
Begin with an organizational culture that values donors as people, not gifts. And make it a habit to show them they matter. (Hint: sending an acquisition pack to a long-time donor doesn’t do that.)
Tell stories that show some of the bumps. Your organization is not perfect. You are a collection of human beings looking to other human beings to help you. I’d sure rather help humans than a faceless corporation, wouldn’t you?
If yours is a particularly difficult issue, it’s OK not to have every story end happily.
Commit to being authentic. Accept responsibility if you screw up. Be honest about the failures as well as the successes. (That will make the success so much sweeter!)
No one is perfect. And sometimes, your imperfections bring you closer to the people who care most about your cause.
Tell the truth. Unless you will really close the doors without support, don’t imply that you will. Trust is crucial in this relationship and once you dent it, it’s hard to hammer that dent out again.
And let’s try being a little vulnerable. No one reading this is perfect. The person writing it sure isn’t. That’s not permission to be lazy – not to try for the best. But it is permission to be human.
Because isn’t that really what fundraising is about? Humans helping other humans do something good?
Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash
It seems so simple to cross-check your donor list before using a new mailing list, but it’s a detail that I know slips by a lot of us. Thanks for the reminder!
Mary Cahalane says
Thank you, Jason!