Make the Donor the Hero of Your Organization’s Story

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This post is a shout out to my fundraising writing mentor, Tom Ahern.  Tom specializes in applying the discoveries of psychology and neuroscience to the day-to-day business of inspiring and retaining donors.

About three years ago, I heard Tom say “your donors don’t care about your campaign goal” and it was transformative for me.  I had been putting campaign goals in my appeal letters for years (e.g. “We’re only $15,000 away from our goal, with your help we can meet it before our fiscal year ends!”).  But research has shown that donors don’t really care about our fundraising goals — especially prospective donors.  Yes, helping an organization reach their goal might be nice, but the goal doesn’t belong to the donor so in the end they just really don’t care about it that much.

But Tom has found that it goes a bit further than just your goals that donors don’t care that much about.  They don’t care all that much about organizational accomplishments either.  Things like be re-accredited, finalizing a new strategic plan or hiring a great new staff member seem like big reportable news stories, but in the end donors aren’t that interested.  Thanks for crushing our dreams, Tom!

So what do donors care about?  They care about themselves.  Not in a selfish way, but in how they help your organization succeed.  They want to know what difference their support makes.  The impact their donation has on your ability to fulfill your mission.

Another great line and tactic by Tom is to “make the donor the hero of your organization’s story.”  This is actually pretty easy to do, you just use the word “you” a ton throughout your correspondence.  Lines like “With your support …” and “Because of you  …” are great ways to say what happened, but to clearly state that it’s the donor that made it happen.  They are the hero of this story, not you or your organization.  Without them, none of it would be possible.

So take a look at your last appeal letter and see how you did.  When I review letters for clients, about 50% of them still talk about the campaign goal and 80% of them don’t have enough “yous” in the text.  How does your letter stack up?

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