Fundraisers: Why Should I Believe You?

If you’re a direct marketer or fundraiser, odds are you’re a pretty good storyteller. You know when to use evocative words and emotional triggers. You’ve learned what grabs people’s attention and how to motivate them to take action. You’ve even got a dashboard of tools to help you benchmark and rationalize you’re every step.

Between the tried and true, and new technology, you’d think everything was sunflowers and lollipops. Except we all know things are measuring up how we’d like the to. What if the cause is more than just a tired economy?  Membership rolls are on the decline. Giving patterns are dramatically shifting. And our audience – the donors, members, and customers – are increasingly savvy to spot a sales pitch when they see one. We have to stop using the “Great Recession” as our excuse for why our numbers are down.

What’s the New Storyline?

The field of direct marketing and fundraising needs a bigger mindset that reflects the new age of communications. Audiences aren’t passive consumers that accept our message hook, line, and sinker. While we’re selling transactions, they’re increasingly seeking relationships and experiences. While we’re saying “trust me”, they’re asking back “Why should I?” At face value, our audience has good reason to be cynical and discerning. We’ve all lost a little faith and confidence in the system. We’re questioning assumptions and moving beyond just “good intentions”. We’re starting to ask a lot more questions. Especially around what’s being sold to us. Our expectations have grown. We’ve become a more sophisticated and conscious culture. Thank you social media.

In an age of information overload and attention deficit, audiences expect something real and genuine. They want a fresh point of view. Something that’s alive and generative. If you want to cut through the noise, give people something to believe in. This means your appeal needs to speak to identity, not morals or social obligation. We need to stop guilting, shaming, and coercing people into the impulse buy. The short term high is followed by a sense of remorse that rubs off on our clients reputation. Instead of the perfect pitch, we need to tell the story our audience will self-identify with. When you do that – there’s nothing to sell.

What’s the Bigger Story?

People don’t really buy a product, a membership, or a solution. They equally don’t just donate to a cause. They buy the story that’s attached to it. Which means it has to mean something to them, or their dollars will go somewhere it does. So if the meaning doesn’t live beyond the transaction, the donor/member/customer relationship isn’t going to be a lasting one.

Perception matters. Your client’s brand is only as strong as the stories that people tell about it. Which is why we have a professional responsibility to ensure our campaigns are more than just an opportunity shill and close the deal. These times demand that we approach our work from a more enlightened perspective.

This is not an easy issue to address. It begins by fundamentally re-examining the nature of our work. What’s the story we’re asking people to buy into? And is that a story that’s worth believing?

This blog post originally ran as an article in the March issue of the Marketing Advents newsletter, as a lead in to my July keynote at the 5th Annual Bridge Conference for Direct Marketers and Fundraisers in Washington, DC. You can also download the pdf version of the above article to share with colleagues.