I was thrilled to see an article in the New York Times about giving. And even more excited when it featured Tom Ahern, Jen Love and Jennifer Shang.
The article’s title – Asking for Money? Compliment the Donor, Not Your Organization – lays it right out there. My mailbox, though, tells me so many organizations ignore this simple fact.
I see appeal after appeal focused on the organization. They try to sell me on the organization’s virtues and accomplishments. They offer arguments with faultless logic, for why I should send money.
Or even thank you letters that are all about the organization!
I – the donor – disappear. Until it’s time to talk money, that is.
Shortly after that, I read Jeff Brooks’ reminder about the power of emotion in fundraising. And how much “professionalism and dignity” will cost you.
At bottom, it comes down to the same thing: your donor communications are not about you.
Read it again: Not. About. You.
- You’re not writing to make your organization look good.
- You’re not writing to make your board proud.
- You’re not writing to make yourself comfortable.
In fact, if you’re doing it well, your organization is a bit player in the drama.
You’re just there to move the action along. You’re a means to an end.
Who’s the star?
Well, the donor, of course. And the people you help.
The donor wants to know: “You’re a good person. A kind person. The kind of person who wants to help.” (Flattery works!)
The donor wants to know: “And you can help! There’s a problem and you can solve it!” (The donor, not the organization.)
And if your job is to communicate with donors, that’s the purpose of your existence.
Connecting the donor, and her desire to do good, with someone who needs her help.
You can’t do that without emotion.
Look, you can write a winning term paper with iron-clad arguments for the worth of your mission.
You can put together a brief that would win the case in court.
But giving is not a rational decision.
Giving is gut-level. You’re either moved, or you’re bored.
That’s it, really.
So if focusing on your audience instead of your organization makes the brand police upset, learn to ignore them. Or raise less money.
If being all emotional makes your boss itch for the loss of his dignity, remind him how much less dignified it will feel to explain to the board why you’re out of cash.
And if your appeals make you feel all squishy and uncool? Congratulations! You’re probably on the right track.
Your role is important and all but invisible
We’re fundraisers. We don’t have to be stars. We’re doing important work. We’re getting things done.
And we do it better when no one even notices us doing it.
Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire at Gratisography