By Jan Chisholm This article was first published in Charity Funding Report in November 2010
Being a fundraiser means being a storyteller. We tell stories with an important purpose: motivating another human being to take action on behalf of someone (or something) they care about.
For more than 20 years I’ve been trying to work out what makes a fundraising appeal connect with the donor and deliver the best response on behalf of my beneficiaries. Today, I’m sharing with you the seven steps I believe the best fundraising approaches (whether direct marketing or face to face) include. Does your next appeal have them all?
1. Express the need
I know this sounds really obvious, doesn’t it? But unfortunately I’ve lost count of the number of direct marketing approaches I’ve received that neglect to tell me exactly what my gift will make happen for the beneficiary group I care about. The need you must express to your donor isn’t about the stuff your organisation needs (more research, tents, homes.) It’s about what impact getting those things will have on the people, places or things the donor cares about. If your appeal doesn’t express this clearly; go back to the drawing board.
2. Tell compelling stories
If fundraisers are storytellers then it’s our job to find powerful stories to tell. Talking simply about someone you met on your most recent trip to the field will connect with the donor far more powerfully than impersonal statistics and facts. Give the donor a person, place or thing to connect with. Draw them a picture with words of who, what or where they are helping. Using personal stories will help you create a genuine connection between donors who care and those you are there to help.
3. Have a clear call to action
What exactly do you want the donor to do? Don’t assume they know. It’s your job to tell them exactly how they can help. Do it in the body of your appeal. Repeat it on the donation form. What is the single most important thing the donor can do to meet the needs of the beneficiary group you’re telling them about? Be clear, be upfront and be consistent.
4. Create a personal link
Step two is about telling real people’s stories with dignity and passion. Here I’m talking about the other important person in the equation. The donor. Does your appeal copy make your donor feel valued and respected? How much do you know about each donor? When did they begin to support your work? Have they supported similar projects in the past? Have they told you though conversations or surveys, just why they think your organisation’s work is so important? All this information, and more, should be on your records. If it isn’t, start finding it out. If it is, then use it cleverly to create personal conversations that acknowledge who the donor is and why you’ve chosen to ask them for their help again at this time.
If you can’t tell the donor exactly why you’re telling them this story now and what you want to happen as result (and by when), then you’re probably wasting their time. I’m not talking about creating false urgency or raising the alarm unnecessarily. Urgency is about respecting the donor by only asking for help when there is a clear need that they can help us meet. Now. Not next week. Or next month.
6. Talk to the right audience
Data analysis shows me that the best people to ask for help are those who just helped you. Sounds counter-intuitive? But let’s think about it. Someone who has recently responded to a request from you (and has been promptly, warmly and informatively thanked) should be in a supportive frame of mind the next time you contact them. RFV – recency, frequency and value – is your friend here. Put simply, recency and frequency of past giving you allow you to find those most likely to respond next time you ask. Value of past giving simply allows you to work out how much you should ask for this time.
7. Make it easy for people to respond
Oh… the times I’ve been moved to action by an appeal, only to be flummoxed by a dense or confusing response form. Keep it simple. You know what you asked for in the letter or email. Make sure the donation form mirrors that. Give me boxes to tick. Give me enough space to fill in my details – particularly my email address, which is very long. Keep reminding me what impact my gift will have on the beneficiaries I care about (see step one). Importantly, try to fill in the form yourself before it’s published and if your pen hovers over the page or your fingers pause on the keyboard as you have to think about what you’re being asked for – redesign your form.
Next time you have a fundraising story to tell your donors, I sincerely hope my seven step checklist will help you create an appeal that delivers a positive outcome for both you and your donors.