Now You’ve Read It All: Think Small
Today, our nation and our world face a lot of “big picture” problems.
Global warming is melting our polar ice caps. Major wars rage in Iraq, Afghanistan and numerous other spots around the world. The fear of terrorism is at an all-time high. AIDS and other epidemics threaten to kill millions. And throngs of people across the world die every day from starvation.
Nonprofit organizations are rising to the challenge by educating the public, organizing support and raising revenue to address these major problems. And while these organizations need to focus on the “big picture” in most of their public-education efforts, often they should do the opposite in their fundraising campaigns. In other words, and in a reversal of an often used phrase, they need to “see the trees, rather than the forest.”
“What is he blabbering about?” you might be asking right about now. Here’s what I’m trying to convey.
Often, nonprofit organizations focus their fundraising communications on such massively big problems that the potential donor believes that no amount of his support will help. This is what I refer to as a “drop in a bucket” scenario.
Here’s a fictional example of how an environmental group addressing global warming might, in fact, create this kind of situation:
Global warming is rapidly heating our planet. A huge hole has opened in our ozone layer. Polar ice caps are melting away. Chunks of ice the size of Texas have split away from Antarctica. Current coastlines will begin to disappear as water from the melting ice drowns our coastal cities. Millions of people will be displaced or die from the resulting change in weather patterns.
Please send us $15 to stop this catastrophe.
See what I mean? A recipient who reads this literally could envision a drop of water plopping into a huge bucket … because that’s how he’ll view his relatively small contribution in comparison to the problem it’s supposed to address. It will discourage many potential supporters from even addressing the subject.
OK, that example may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but it’s not so far off of the mark.
Some fundraisers attempt to fix this problem by changing the ask to something like, “Please send us $15 to stop this catastrophe, and we’ll send you this really cute teddy bear.”
In other words, they overcome the donor’s hesitance by offering a bribe for a contribution. I’m not condemning those who use premiums to overcome the reluctance of potential donors. A few of my clients will testify that, in some cases, I’ve urged them to do just that.
Bring it home
But before succumbing to the easy solution of premiums, you should try another method when addressing “big picture” issues such as global warming, war, world hunger or deadly diseases. First, you should attempt to bring the issue down to a level that the potential donor can more easily understand, and can more easily visualize how his $15 contribution will make a difference.
Child-sponsorship organizations understand this strategy better than anyone. Can one person stop world hunger? No way. But can one person feed one child in a Third World country? Yes … that is a manageable goal. And can a single person stop global warming? No. But one person can support lobbying efforts in Congress to pass higher automobile mileage standards or other regulations that stem emissions that cause global warming.
The next time you attempt to communicate with potential donors about the “forest” of challenges that your organization wants to address, remember to take the time to point out a few of the trees.
Jim Hussey is president of Adams Hussey & Associates. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.