I watched the press conference wind to an end.
At that point, the spokesperson uttered demonstrably incorrect words and walked away from the podium. Boom.
The intent was obvious: my “facts” will trump your “fake news”.
Obviously, our current situation is fraught with danger. But more to our point here, it presents problems for fundraisers.
Problem one: we no longer agree on what’s in front of our eyes
We need to face that we now live in a world where it’s possible to disagree about the color of grass and have people line up on both sides.
Where we may no longer have any common island of fact to build on.
Where “truth” depends on who wins the shouting match.
Problem two: the people we’re writing or talking to may have different perceptions of a problem
Most of our donors are older. So to be blunt, many of them will watch Fox News. Many have been taught to distrust organizations created to help people. That’s particularly true if the organizations aren’t religious. (Here’s some older, but interesting research on politics and news from Pew.)
This group is told that poverty is the fault of the poor. Science isn’t factual. Suspicion is survival.
We will have to overcome that to succeed.
(Let me be clear: many of these people – maybe most – have big hearts. I do believe they can be reached. But we need to be aware of the situation and act with that in mind.)
Problem three: the people we’re communicating with may not agree about solutions
This is a huge problem. Even if you can get people to agree about the problem, will they trust your solution?
So how do you approach tricky issues – especially if those are central to your mission?
Civil rights organizations probably attract people who agree about solutions.
But what about organizations fighting poverty? How about those that work with immigrants or refugees? Issues around health and wellness? The environment?
Clarity couldn’t be more important than it is now.
We’re guilty in the sector of using fuzzy language. We use it to give people living with rotten problems some dignity. The intention is good. But those words don’t do what they’re supposed to. They harm the effort to communicate with immediacy.
So if you’re communicating with donors, phrases like “underserved” sound like jargon. And jargon closes ears and eyes.
It’s possible to speak about poverty or being poor without stripping anyone of their dignity. It’s all about context and approach.
Simple words are more human. And our work is essentially human. (I mean that in the “human to the core” sense, not the “mostly, sort-of” sense.)
So use real words. “Poor” means something to people, where “under-resourced” does not. And use your empathy as well. That’s the key to winning hearts for your cause.
Tell stories to break through
Storytelling – focused on one person (or maybe a family), can help break through barriers.
We’re born with empathy. While facts don’t stimulate an empathetic response, stories do. A well-told story puts us in the other person’s shoes. We stop focusing on issues – intellectual questions – and start focusing on people.
Once you see someone as a person, it’s harder to see their poverty, their illness – their need – as fakery meant to separate you from your money.
Don’t reach for clinical explanations – especially if they’re complex. A story will always work better.
Be consistent to build trust
Consistency can build the trust you need. Be clear about the problem you want donors to solve – and about how they can solve it with you.
Write in the same voice to help build trust in your spokesperson. Be consistent about what you are asking people to do.
And be honest about the problem. Find the emotion without inflating the situation for effect.
This is where branding done right can help. Your goal is to move your organization from the suspicious column to the trusted one.
Report honestly about impact
Don’t skip on telling donors what their gifts did until the next appeal. Make sure you include them every step of the way. And make sure you credit them with any progress and admit to any bumps in the road.
Credit your donors to bring them into the good fight with you. Care about them and show it. Use every opportunity to connect them to the people they’ve helped.
We need everyone
Of course, our organizations are needed more now. My guess is that need will increase exponentially in the near future. It’s not a good time to be poor, or sick, or gay, or disabled or an immigrant.
Nor can we walk away from the people among our donors who don’t see the problem the way we do. We can’t afford it. And it’s wrong.
If your cause is worth supporting – worth fighting for – then you need to enlist everyone you can.
Despite how it might seem at times, empathy isn’t restricted to one political ideology. It’s built-in for most people.
We just have to find ways to encourage it.
Photo: Ryan McGuire, Gratisography.