What They Get Is Key to Why They Give
Soon after I was divorced, I heard a story on NPR that really got to me. I was driving home from work, half-listening to a profile of East St. Louis. It was about the area’s extreme poverty and the efforts of some extraordinary people to rise above their circumstances and make better lives for their families.
The details are long lost, but I remember one person from the story perfectly. She seized my complete attention. She was a single mother working long hours to support her two daughters. She’d cobbled together the funds to send them to a good school, and she was doing all she could for their future. She kept going, against all odds, for those girls.
As a single, working mother of two daughters myself, I was amazed and humbled by this woman. Though my life is far easier than hers, I did have an inkling of just how much strength it took to do what she did.
When I got to work, I tracked down the NPR reporter, e-mailed him, thanked him for the story and asked him to put me in touch with the woman. After he got her permission, he gave me her contact information. I told the woman how much I admired her and thanked her for inspiring me, and then I sent a small check to support her daughters’ education.
While technically I was the donor in this relationship, there is no question that she did more for me than I could ever do for her. She gave me faith that the job of raising two daughters alone could be done, even in the hardest of circumstances.
I tell this story because it illustrates something so important: Giving and receiving go hand in hand. Fundraising is not simply about what you ask of people; it’s about what they get in return. You don’t have an empty, outstretched hand. You have a lot to offer donors, and you should frame your ask accordingly.
The benefit exchange
In crass marketing terms, we call this the benefit exchange. It is the answer to the question, what do I get for my money? If I’m buying pricey antiwrinkle cream, the benefit exchange might involve $100 as the price for the hope that I can regain my youth. If I’m fundraising, there are many possible benefit exchanges I can offer my donors — faith in themselves, inspiration, a feeling of accomplishment, or, on a more mundane level, a plastic wristband or logo-laden coffee mug.
Think about this formula the next time you ask for money. Remind donors of the returns of giving, which are precious indeed. Here are a few qualities of a great benefit exchange:
IMMEDIATE: What will people get right away in exchange for doing what you ask — whether you want them to give money, volunteer or quit smoking? Some good causes deal with the immediacy challenge with a gift like a T-shirt, hat or wristband. These offerings provide the person who donated money or took some action with an instant benefit — recognition. Other options? Show how someone can save a life RIGHT NOW. Demonstrate how he or she can feel good by making a difference THIS SECOND. And above all, make it incredibly easy to act, so people will believe they will get the benefit exchange pronto.
PERSONAL: Our audience members need to believe from our message that the reward we’re offering for taking action will make something better for them personally. The private sector understands the importance of making rewards personal. Auto manufacturers don’t sell you a car by explaining the way the engine is built; they tell you the car is reliable, safe or fast, depending on who you are and your personal priorities. They take the attributes of their products and translate them into personally desirable benefits. That translation is easy to make for most products. It’s harder for good causes because we get swept up in the huge scope of what we want to accomplish. But remember, at the end of the day, it is always the personal connection, not the grand concept, that grabs our attention.
RELEVANT: We can’t easily change what our audiences believe, but by plugging into their existing mind-sets, we unleash great power behind our benefit exchange and our message. The values of our audience might have nothing to do with our cause, but we can still use them. A famous, frequently cited example of the value-based principle at work in social advertising is the successful “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign. The phrase has become so famous that many people outside Texas don’t even realize that it’s not a state slogan but rather a long-running marketing effort to get people to stop littering. The young Texan men who were the target of the campaign didn’t care about littering, but they did care about their macho image. And no one doubted the fierce pride they had for their home state. By tapping into these powerful feelings with the “Don’t Mess with Texas” concept, which didn’t have a thing to do with trash, the campaign drastically reduced roadside litter.
The bottom line? Doing good is not a one-way transaction. It’s an exchange — I give your cause support or dollars, and you give me some thing or some feeling that I want and value, right away. In my case, I gave to a woman in East St. Louis because she gave me faith in myself. And that is a benefit that not only compels a donation but is also most certainly priceless. FS
Katya Andresen is vice president of marketing at Network for Good, a nonprofit organization that helps other nonprofits raise money online.