Easier Said Than Done: Three Laws of Fundraising Dynamics
We’ve been hard at work here at Easier Said Than Done Laboratories on the holy grail of fundraising — a new Unified Theory of Fundraising. I’m happy to announce some breakthrough discoveries: Three Laws of Fundraising Dynamics that will give you the theoretical platform for great fundraising.
The first law
There’s a clear inverse correlation between the complexity of a message and its effectiveness at motivating people. In layman’s terms, the more you say, the less people listen.
Many nonprofits flout this law all the time. It seems they can’t stand the idea of a supporter (or anyone else) having a less-than-complete understanding of the grand scope of what they do and who they are, so they cram everything about themselves in every piece of communication. That’s where they go wrong.
Americans are exposed to something like 2,000 marketing messages every day. All that noise has forced us to develop strategies for ignoring as many messages as possible. And the first-line strategy most of us employ is to ignore messages that don’t instantly proclaim their relevance to us. Why bother figuring it out? Something else will come along within a few seconds, and it’ll probably be clearer.
The outline of a successful fundraising message looks like this:
1. Do this specific good deed.
That’s it. If you’ve made it clear and compelling, and it’s something recipients are predisposed to do, and you reached them at the right time — you’ve got it made. Fundraising success.
Unfortunately, many fundraising messages follow a slightly more complicated outline:
1. Understand the background.
2. Become educated about the context.
3. Do this open-ended good deed.
4. Do a couple other things, too.
5. But please be aware that we do much more than just this.
In the crowded psyche of donors, this message likely gets shut out before they get past point one. Keep your messages simple. Say one big, clear, compelling thing.
The second law
Self-focused communication is an ineffective way to attract people and might make you come across as boring, clueless, creepy — or all three.
It’s easy to observe this law in action, because it applies to nearly all types of human communication. People connect through things they share in common — often small, even unimportant things. Let’s look at two relationship scenarios:
A relationship begins: Regular human version
Boy: “Hey, I noticed you aren’t eating the eggplant parmesan.”
Girl: “I don’t care much for eggplant.”
Boy: “No kidding! I hate eggplant, too!”
Girl tells an anecdote about how her dislike for eggplant once nearly caused her to lose her job.
This is a budding relationship that has potential. They start simple, and they build with give and take. The key is two-way communication. Each side pays attention to the other.
The way some nonprofits go about it, though, is a little different …
A relationship begins: Nonprofit version
Boy: “It appears you don’t like eggplant. I also don’t like eggplant. Indeed, I have hated eggplant since 1982, and I hate it 12 percent more than anyone else in my demographic. I also hate rutabagas, okra, bok choy and parsnips. But you’ll be happy to know my hate is not confined to vegetables. I hate goat milk, grits, pork, scallops and blancmange. I’m such an excellent hater, I even hate marshmallows. I have an impressive database of hates that makes me the most cutting-edge, efficient hater in the U.S., not counting Alaska, Hawaii and outlying territories. By the way, my approved font is Super-Narrow Sans, a cool, edgy and rare font. You’ll have to download it so you can read my messages.”
Girl: “Umm …”
Boy: “You need to marry me. Your dress will match my color palette.”
Girl nervously backs away, starts running as soon as she’s around the corner. Can you blame her?
That’s the way many nonprofits approach fundraising: Me, me, me and more me.
Here’s the deal: Your donors don’t support you because you’re the coolest organization on the block. They support you because they are cool. And you are just cool enough for them to consider inviting you into their circles. You are the trembling, grateful newcomer hoping to be allowed to hang out with the cool donor.
The self-focused organizations are so uncool, they think they’re cool. They press on with their look-at-me monologues, never noticing that nobody’s impressed and nobody’s listening.
If you want to motivate people to action, you have to spend at least some time listening.
Listening isn’t just a matter of shutting up so you can hear donors talk (though that’s part of it). After all, only a tiny fraction of donors take the trouble to spontaneously tell you what they think and feel. That means your listening has to be very active:
- Watch donor behavior, and act accordingly. What donors give to, how often they give, when they give, how much they give. All these things are important pieces of information that you should use.
- Solicit donor choices. Periodically let donors take control of the relationship. Let them pick the media you use to reach them, the types of messages they prefer, what you may do with their names. Very few donors (well less than 10 percent in most cases) exercise any choice at all. But you’ll see a lift in performance from all those you share power with. Listening works!
The third law
This final law helps us understand how to avoid running afoul of the other two: The more people involved in creating, revising and polishing a fundraising message, the more complex and self-focused it will be. Or as grandma might have said, too many cooks spoil the broth.
If you want effective fundraising copy, start with a professional writer who knows fundraising. Then
support that writer with:
- Someone else who really knows fundraising copy, to help the writer polish it up to its best.
- Someone who knows the strategy of the project at hand to make sure it accomplishes what it’s meant to accomplish.
- A fact-checker, to make sure there’s nothing untrue or inaccurate.
- A proofreader to hunt down errors.
These are functions, not people, so they can be done by fewer than four individuals.
Stay tuned for more exciting discoveries from us here at Easier Said Than Done Laboratories! FS