Motivating Donors to Give — and Give Happily
They ask a series of questions a lot like the Nike shoe questions. Why do people give? To help the poor. Why do they help the poor? To make the world a better place. Within three or four questions, they arrive at what they think is the true purpose of the organization in the deepest sense. Which they assume is also the donor’s purpose: the deeper meaning. The “Just Do It.”
That ideal is invariably an abstraction.
Instead of a concrete action like providing meals for hungry people, it is a value that’s inspiring but vague: Hope. An aspiration, not an action. (You might be shocked by how often Brand Experts arrive at Hope.)
On the surface, Hope looks like Just Do It. But it’s not even close. It doesn’t take a donor anywhere because it doesn’t motivate action. This is the moment when commercial-style branding fails for nonprofits.
Stating abstract ideals is not fundraising. No matter how elevated those ideals are. Donors give to make specific things happen, not to identify with ideals. Our job as fundraisers is not to ennoble a boring old shoe with a glowing ideal. Our job is almost the opposite of that: We connect a donor’s ideals with a gritty and specific reality, so she can change the world.
Branding doesn’t always kill fundraising. It can even do some good for organizations that follow these disciplines:
- They have the calls to action that both donors understand — and that can’t be obliterated by a fog of abstraction.
- They can make what they do clear and obvious visually and emotionally because they’ve learned what motivates donors to action.
- They connect with donors. Real donors whose preferences they know from real-life behavior.
So keep your eyes open when the Brand Experts show up. Their expertise could turn you into a defective version of a company selling a product that doesn’t quite exist.