This is an excerpt from Tom Ahern's book, What Your Donors Want…and Why! For more information, click here.
"The story’s about the donor," Seth Godin says.
Godin is a Stanford MBA, a successful serial entrepreneur, and the best-selling author of more than a dozen mind-bending marketing books. His insights into consumer behavior are sharp and actionable, especially where donors are concerned.
"Every time someone donates to a good cause," Godin points out, "they're buying a story, a story that's worth more than the amount they donated."
There is more treasure hidden in that observation than in King Solomon's lost mines. Godin goes on: "It might be the story of doing the right thing, or fitting in, or pleasing a friend or honoring a memory, but the story has value. For many, it's the story of what it means to be part of a community."
Notice two points:
1) Donors play a role in the story they're buying;
2) The purchased story is worth the money because it reinforces the donor's self-image: "I am a good person because I chipped in."
When a person makes a gift to charity, they're proving something to themselves (and maybe others): This is the kind of person I am. Every gift to charity has the potential to extend a person's story in a meaningful and positive direction.
In her research, Jen Shang, a psychologist who studies philanthropic behavior, found that Americans describe a "good person" with nine favored adjectives: caring, compassionate, fair, friendly, generous, hard-working, helpful, honest and kind. A "good person" would be someone you'd like as a neighbor, as a politician representing you, as a teacher for your kids.
As you read those adjectives, you probably noticed that many of them—six of nine—link up nicely with the charitable impulse: caring, compassionate, fair (as in a desire for social justice), generous, helpful and kind.
In other words, good people make gifts. Yet how many charities bother to celebrate such baseline values in their donor communications? Very few I run across. And I review hundreds of items a year: direct mail appeals, donor newsletters, emails, websites, annual reports, videos, case statements, thank you's and so on.
Instead, by and large, the donor communications I see say the wrong things. Almost none are donor centered. Jeff Brooks, one of America's most experienced and successful direct mail copywriters, author How to Turn Your Words Into Money, puts it this way:
Your donors are not your donors—as in an asset you own or control. But your organization is their charity—something they use to accomplish their goals. Keep this distinction in mind, and your fundraising will be a lot better.
What every communication from your organization should (subliminally) say
No matter what words you actually choose, your prospects and your donors should hear something like this from you loud and clear, over and over and over and over and over:
You make it possible.
Thank you … SO, SO MUCH.
This mission depends on you UTTERLY.
At board and staff retreats, we always talk about YOU, the donor … the true believer, the supporter, the real family member.
Who keeps us strong and cutting edge? Donors like you. Philanthropists. Like you.
We talk about YOU … and how all these special, compassionate, selfless people like you make SO MUCH possible.
We gush about you shamelessly. Because you joined "the fight."
You consulted your heart. You felt those crazy "caring" enzymes rise inside you.
You glowed … like a high-wattage LED bulb of doing good.
You flared … into a nova star of doing good.
Would it embarrass you to say the above? Good. You should be embarrassed. That's when you know you've gone far enough. Donors, however, won't be embarrassed. Applaud them without reservation. They'll love you for it.
About the Author
Tom Ahern is considered one of the world’s top authorities on how to make donor communications more profitable. He is author of Seeing Through a Donor’s Eyes, How to Write Fundraising Materials that Raise More Money, and Making Money with Donor Newsletters, all published by Emerson & Church. He collaborated with Adrian Sargeant and psychologist Jen Shang on prototyping innovative direct mail packages for PBS TV. As a “message strategist” he’s won three prestigious IABC Gold Quill awards, all for nonprofit communications campaigns that achieved unusual success.