Stop talking to donors like donors

When you’re engaging donors, volunteers, board members, etc in your work, do you keep front and center the fact that:

Most people wear a bunch of hats and don’t think of themselves primarily as donors.

People think of themselves as a mom, dad, friend, daughter, brother, auntie, etc. Or, donning their professional hat, a barista, a nurse, a project manager, a student, a lawyer, a developer, a chef. etc. Or, donning their hobby hat, a runner, a yogi, a musician, a painter, a football fan, a poet, a knitter, etc.

“Well, duh, Erica!” you’re saying right about now. But admit it–when you’re ready to write an e-newsletter, a direct mail piece, a blog post, etc, you likely switch to thinking of the people on the receiving end of that communications first and foremost–and possibly solely–as donors. (It’s okay, we’ve all been there.)

Fundraisers focused on major gifts help people switch hats all the time. The good ones do this really, really well. When they sit down with someone, they know a lot about them. That’s what allows them to start out the conversation with what’s going on in that person’s life. They helpĀ them take off their “harried parent/busy professional/OMG-I-forgot-to-swap-out-the-laundry” hat and put on their “I-can-make-the-world-a-better-place-yihaw” hat. Did their son just head off to college? Is their niece in a dance recital? Did their dog just graduate to the next level of doggie school? They start the conversation there and then ease into a conversation about how their donations, investments, philanthropy and charitable choice.

So how do you apply this high-touch, in-person one-on-one fundraising technique to one-to-many marketing efforts? You do everything you can to make everything you do feel as personal as possible.

Two tips:

  1. Look at your list and figure out what hat the people on the receiving end will be wearing when they read or, more likely, quickly scan your piece. (Yes, yes, many people, many hats. Take your best guess. If you have no idea who anyone is on your list, you have a different problem, my friend.) Will they be in front of a computer, having just arrived at their office, slamming back a cup of joe before heading into a day full of meetings? Will they be at home on a mobile device, making dinner, switching out laundry and sifting through their personal email? Or perhaps they’re a retiree who enjoys more in-depth information and has the time to read longer pieces? Figure out their situation and write accordingly. Feed them the information they want, how they want it. (Hint within a hint: Look at your balance of ‘you’ to ‘we’. ‘We’ is usually followed by something about the organization. ‘You’ is usually followed by something about them. You want more ‘you’ than ‘we’.)
  2. Write everything with one person in mind. A real, live person who represents the type of person who will be reading the piece. (This is why personas are so important.) Write something they’d love to read. Others will love it, too.

Obviously, you shouldn’t stop talking to donors, volunteers and board members. But you should stop talking to them as if supporting your cause is the only thing they have going on in their lives. It isn’t.


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?