Who Do You Truly Represent?
It’s easy to tell the story of the clients you serve — especially in 2010, if you have a flip video camera, a social media platform and a few juicy questions to ask.
Unfortunately, it’s much harder to tell a story with which your donors can identify.
Let’s be honest: Storytelling often gets muddled when it comes to the fundraising process. While you’re judged by your impact on beneficiaries, it’s ultimately your donors that must buy into your story.
There’s the secret to really great fundraising: If you can put yourself in the shoes of your donor, your financial appeal stands a much greater chance of success. Remember that donors are increasingly cynical, suspicious and exhausted. That’s why you need to speak in a more thoughtful manner.
Here are a total of 12 questions to help you reinforce the emotional connection and the perceived value of your work.
1) Do I Belong Here?
That’s the first question in the mind of every donor. One way or another, they must locate themselves in your story. They must experience a genuine emotional pull that what you do matters to them, personally. It might be the cause itself, a pet project that means something, their relationship to a staff person – the possible intersections are endless. It’s your job to help connect the dots and determine why people generally get involved.
- Can you describe who most easily identifies with your work?
- What are you doing to remind them of how they belong with you?
- How might you give them something to remember you for?
There are many reasons people are motivated to donate – but the constant same is meaning. That is your true currency and the building block of all great stories. How can you create a pride of belonging?
2) What Do You Stand For?
More than just numbers, donors invest in organizations that reflect their own personal values and worldview. In giving to a specific group, they are expressing themselves through the work that you do. Their image of self is bundled with how they direct their giving. When they give to your organization, that’s a reflection of who they are – or who they aspire to be. Now, just how are you reinforcing their story of identity?
As a teenager, I remember that Amnesty International left a really big impression on me. The universal desire for freedom is a story that meant something. Perhaps the MTV-style celebrity concerts helped bring the issue to my awareness. Fast forward to a couple years back – I decided to join as a member. Yet in the course of the following 12 months, Amnesty did a masterful job of completely driving me away from their organization. Their historic message of freedom had morphed into a dystopian vision of the future. While I still believed in the larger cause, Amnesty’s angry view of the world was a far cry from my own. Needless to say, I’ve yet to renew my contribution. And my letter of feedback to the organization’s President went unanswered. What’s the lesson for you?
- How do you communicate the philosophy of your organization?
- Does your ethos speak to a narrower or mainstream audience?
- What might you do to evolve your story for greater relevance?
As the saying goes, “The most important things are choosing what’s most important”. That’s why you need to clearly articulate your values, and in a manner that hopefully is generative for attracting more people into the mix.
3) Are You For Real?
There’s plenty of “worthy” causes. Yet increasingly donors question what organizations are “worthy” of contribution. We all know that duplication and inefficiency is rampant throughout the sector. People more and more question where there money is going, and whether they’re making the right choices. Being “for real” requires that you demonstrate your authenticity and legitimacy. More than just numbers, it means that you are judged for your knowledge, trust and social capital.
- Why was the organization founded or started (in response to what)?
- What unique approach or knowledge do you have on your issue?
- Who do you truly represent, and how do you prove their support?
Communicating your nonprofits unique difference is a matter of survival. So while you must paint a picture regarding the scale of impact, it’s not just about over-rationalized arguments. You need to tell a bigger story that inspires the imagination. At the end of the day, are you giving you donors a story they can proudly believe in?
Great question/comment from Sian at Alternet.org! In response, look at the following example. Here is a mail piece that I received from Amnesty International just in the last couple weeks. Notice the front cover – moralizing, guilting, and trying to shame me into action. Yuck!
Yet, right there on the back cover, is the real “bigger story” hiding in plain sight. Its the back cover that captures the human spirit, and still symbolizes one of the origin stories and rituals of AI which is to write on and sign a piece of paper that is then delivered to prisoners of conscience in their prison cells. The anger and vitriol just forces people to look the other way. Anger is not a sustainable way to get a story to travel, because there’s nothing life affirming about it.