Personalization Is More Than a First Name in the Salutation
In a recent blog titled, “Why I Care About Your Cause, But Don’t Donate,” we wrote about the importance of focusing on the donor, fundraiser or constituent in order to persuade them to support your nonprofit. If numbers are any indication of relevance, this was one of the most-read blogs that we have ever written. This strategy struck a chord.
The blog ends with, “Rather than focusing on the mission’s need or what donors’ gifts can accomplish, make your communication more personal. The way to make it about you is to make it about (them) first.”
What Is Personalization?
What does it mean to make it more personal? We don’t mean personalizing salutations, using segmentation or even using behaviorally triggered automated-marketing tools (although you definitely want to do all those things). We mean focusing on the needs of the person you are trying to persuade to help you, rather than the needs of your organization.
Blair Warren makes this point eloquently in his book, “The One Sentence Persuasion Course – 27 Words to Make the World Do Your Bidding.” There are reams of market research that documents the best persuasion strategies for engaging with customers (and yes, your constituents are your nonprofit’s customers). But Warren does a nice job of distilling all of it into one sentence. Here it is:
“People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies.”
That sentence contains five insights that can serve as a roadmap for persuading people to rally to your cause, which are:
- Encourage their dreams
- Justify their failures
- Allay their fears
- Confirm their suspicions
- Help them throw rocks at their enemies
Whenever people develop deeply satisfying relationships, they will almost always be based on one or more of these ideas. Although the five covers a lot of ground, there is one thing that is conspicuously absent in the mix. Something that most people think is the most important element of persuasion. There isn’t anything about you. It’s all about the other person.
And as Warren writes:
“Can you imagine how much more (persuasive) you will become when you come to be seen as one who can fulfill some of people’s most basic emotional needs?”
So, what’s the trick—how do you make this work? Good news and bad news: There is no exact recipe to apply the five ideas in your messaging. But that’s okay. You don’t need to address all five of the ideas—in order or at one time—to craft powerful messages.
How to Apply These 5 Ideas
Here’s an example: If I was talking to chief development officers trying to persuade them to consider Turnkey’s peer-to-peer fundraising programs, I might use the five ideas this way:
1. Encouraging dreams. Imagine if you could increase your number of donors by 15 percent each year. What could your organization do with that additional revenue?
2. Justifying failures. Year over year, there is more and more competition among nonprofits to secure revenue, while the size of “the pie” remains the same. It’s a tough assignment.
3. Allaying fears. The data shows that there are techniques that you can use to significantly grow revenue. More competition doesn’t have to mean reduced income.
4. Confirming suspicions. Nearly all people want to find ways they can support their community, to be seen as a “do-gooder.” You need to crack the code to unlock this potential.
5. Throwing rocks at enemies. The majority of people who register online to fundraise are “Zeros,” or zero-dollar-fundraisers. After registering, they do nothing. It takes special tactics to motivate these Zeros.
Would these messages make you interested in talking with Turnkey? What I am trying to communicate is that it is all about you, the chief development officer. I am focused on your needs. I haven’t said anything about my wants, my concerns, my proposal or my offer.
Amazon is full of books that will tell you how to present your organization and your brand in the best possible light. But what people really care about is themselves. When we focus on these basic principles of human behavior, we will create relationships in which people naturally want to do things for our causes.
It bears repeating—the way to make it about you is to make it about them first.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.