Tag Archives: communication

Stop mumbling into the blackboard and look your donor in the eye

13 Aug

imagesRemember the scene in the film, The Mirror Has Two Faces, where Jeff Bridges attempts to teach his class math, but spends the entire class mumbling into the blackboard? After a chat with his wife who tells him to talk “to the audience” instead of to the blackboard, he changes his method, looks his students in the eye, finds examples that make sense to them, cracks a joke or two, and sure enough, the students, for the first time in his class, pay attention.

Non-profits often mumble into the blackboard when talking to donors. So many direct mailers and brochures are written in the third person:

“The Sorcerer’s Stone Society helps individuals live for 300 years and longer.”

It doesn’t quite have the effect that this line has:

“Do you want to live for 300 years or longer? Join the Sorcerer’s Stone Society.”

When we talk about ourselves, but don’t bring the donor in, it’s like a RELATIONSHIP that only has I in it (two, in fact), but no U.

Let’s see how we apply this in real-life situations.

Just yesterday, we sent out an email newsletter to donors of a charity. The main point of the newsletter was to promote a social media campaign where a generous donor had promised to donate a certain amount for every Like, Share or Comment on a Facebook post.

The first email subject line that we wrote focused on the benefit (which is usually a great idea) – real change in the lives of boys in a charity’s hostel.

But then we asked ourselves, what did we want the newsletter to achieve? We wanted people to read it – and then quickly head to the Facebook page and like, share or comment on the post. So a more direct subject line was called for.

The first such header we came up with was:

Like, share and change lives: till Aug 23rd

It still didn’t have the effect of looking the donor in the eye and making the ask. So we changed it to:

Your chance to like, share and change lives: till Aug 23rd

Suddenly, the donor looked up and we talked 🙂

Bringing ‘you’ into the copy works not just in headlines, but in all your writing. If you want your donor to sit up and listen, use the word ‘you’. And watch the relationship grow.

Ask your donor to sponsor a spreadsheet. Or tell them a story of failure.

21 Jan

ImageEngineers without Borders Canada ran a gutsy appeal in 2010 asking donors to sponsor a spreadsheet, instead of a child. The point of this appeal was that all too often, donors are so caught up in the business of supporting hardware, or visible symbols of change like a school, books or uniforms, that many of them don’t see the value of the detailed planning, the software, that goes into running the school well.

Or so we think. Surely a donor would understand that his or her money is better spent in getting the neighbourhood school running, rather than in building a new school? Then why is so much of our fundraising about hardware?

I’ve often heard that raising money for the soft stuff needs a different breed of donor. What it actually needs is a gutsy ask.

One form of a gutsy ask is telling your story of failure, which is told – if at all – in hushed boardroom conversations.

David Damberger talks about this in his riveting TED talk about learning from failure in development. A project to bring clean water to Malawi failed and 10 years later, another project, funded by a different donor, built the same things all over again. There was no acknowledgment of, leave alone learning from, the previous failure. No surprise then, that the project failed in exactly the same manner 10 years later.

What didn’t work? Why? And how has that changed what I’m asking of the donor?

Drag failure out of the closet. Acknowledge it, learn from it and try telling the donor what you plan to do differently. I’m guessing you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Want to know more about admitting failure? Or take a look at EWB’s 2010 failure report.

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