How to Transport Your Donor Into the Action
I will never forget my visit to the city garbage dump of Manila. We had a major project operating among the people who lived there and made a living out of sorting garbage.
The stench was beyond unbearable. There was acidic smoke everywhere. And the dust wanted to choke the breath out of us. Even more dramatic were the living conditions, the health of the kids, the look of despair in the eyes of a mother who wanted to do better.
I wanted to run away. But I couldn’t, because we were there to gather project information and stories to take to our donors back in the States.
I had read the project descriptions and internalized all the technical information about the need, the strategies, the outcomes and the timeline. I had read success stories that showed how a garbage picker’s life could be transformed. I had all the facts.
But nothing had prepared me for actually being there. It was terrible. And I broke down and sobbed at what I saw, smelled and heard.
It was then I realized that my job as a fundraiser was to transport the donor right into the program action. I was supposed to use words, stories and pictures to create, as best as possible, a mental and emotional experience, so that the donor could, from afar, live the experience.
Now, there is quite a bit of controversy on this point in the fundraising world. Some say describing how things really are is manipulation. It is too emotional. So, fundraisers holding to this philosophy dress up need in pretty clothes in a nice, politically correct way, and then dispense it to their donors who, much to the fundraisers' surprise, are usually not really interested in what they have to say.
And here’s the reason. Need is need. If you are a normal human being you will experience a great deal of emotion when you come face to face with a hurt and broken human being, an abused child, a sick animal or a forest that has been destroyed. It is just not pleasant to be around need. So when you take all the life and emotions out of the stories you tell—when you do that, the reader cannot fully experience the meaning you are wanting to convey.
So why do we try to turn need into something it isn’t? I think fundraisers who dress need up are afraid of their own emotions—they are afraid of the pain they experience when they encounter need. So they first dress it up and place it for themselves in a tidy little emotionless package, which avoids the pain and then they pass it on to their donors.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.