Fundraising, Individual donors

Stephen's rant: Sector's 'simplistic storytelling' undermines quality of fundraising appeals

Stephen Pidgeon gives his take on how asking for donations can't be simplistic by means of storytelling, but how you must connect with the donors before asking

How to love your Donors (to Death) deals with the radical change of attitude needed if you are to raise serious money from ordinary donors and I offer the prize of a legacy at the end if you and subsequent generations doing your job, get it right.

My book suggests dozens of simple things you can do, so that one day your best donors will leave you a legacy, simply because you have understood the pleasure they derive from making donations and the feeling they have of being able to change lives for the better.

And since publication, we have witnessed the rise of the two-stage recruitment of new donors. ‘Stage one’ might be taking part in a campaign such as those run by Amnesty International and only at some later ‘stage two’ is there a time to ask for a donation. Or the many ‘added value’ campaigns offering important information, with stage two, ‘the ask’, delivered over the phone, seeking a monthly gift.

The success of these campaigns, and the change of attitude I speak of in How to Love your Donors (to Death) has made me realise that any ask for a donation, in any medium and at any time, must be preceded by a ‘stage one’ which is the ‘connection’ stage. The writer must connect with the donor; with their heart, their emotion, their warmth. Only then will the donor read what is written, and only then can the writing lead on to an ask.

Our sector’s simplistic view of story-telling as the sole panacea for struggling fundraising has led to a plethora of rubbish appeals. Many of them start, ‘My name is William Smith and I want to tell you a story about…’. Why would the donor be interested? These crass appeals fail because, while the story leads smoothly to ‘the ask’ for a donation, the reader has never been connected into the story at stage one. The whole thing has already hit the bin.

Marketing wizard Seth Godin said, ‘We love ourselves. We can’t easily acknowledge the narcissism and the nostalgia that drives so many of the ‘apparently rational’ decisions we make every day.’

If you want to ask, you first have to connect. And if you want to connect, you must start from where the donor is, emotionally. And that probably has nothing to do with the charity or the problem and certainly not to do with some earnest and boring story. Start by encouraging the donor in their love of themselves.

All that thinking of mine came out of How to Love your Donors (to Death). Just think what you might get out of it!


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