Connecting with donors


There’s a great Far Side cartoon that depicts a man trying to correct a dog for an offense. In the first panel, titled “What we say,” the man is scolding: “I’ve had it, Ginger! Stay out of the garbage. Do you hear me, Ginger? Bad dog, Ginger.” In the second panel, titled “What they hear,” the dog interprets, “Blah, blah, Ginger! Blah, blah, blah, Ginger,” etc.

Working for non-profits for many years, there were times when I thought my communication skills were no better than that guy’s. Every message sounded the same to my ears.

To my surprise, I learned that, in a lot of ways, it was supposed to sound the same.

Because I was working for a non-profit with a clear and compelling mission statement, I discovered that it was a sign of having your ducks in a row if the main point essentially sounded identical from donor letter to donor letter, feature story to feature story, video to video. Supporters prefer to contribute to organizations that know exactly what they are doing and why.

What should change is the way in which a non-profit frames it’s consistent message.

It is in that re-framing that a wonderful thing often occurs: The switch is turned “on” and suddenly someone who was on the fringe of your audience buys into the message that they really can be part of your mission. That, dear readers, is exciting.

There are several ways to re-frame your message to get those exciting moments of resonance with your audience. Priority One is to include in every exchange a specific call to action. People want to help but most don’t have a lot of time so it’s up to you to give them solid suggestions. (I’ve altered my examples below for a variety of non-profits.)

Get specific with what a gift can do.

  • How much does it cost to care for an abandoned dog or cat for one week? Make that exact figure, or one like it, a giving option in print and online forms.
  • Itemize a grocery list to feed a family of four for one week and ask donors to provide it for your food pantry.
  • What does it take to fill a bag of personal-care items for a homeless man or woman, a nursing home resident, or the single mom of an infant? Get specific with the items and give supporters the option of contributing money or in-kind donations.

Provide something tangible for your donors as a way to keep your mission in front of them.

  • Bookmarks, refrigerator magnets, bracelets and more can serve as reminders to donors to continue their support. (Regarding give-away items such as pens, magnets, etc., don’t get the cheapest item available, no matter how tempting the price may look.)
  • Some items, such as bookmarks, can be incorporated into print materials. A creative graphic artist can help you brainstorm.

Tell stories

  • Brief stories about someone your organization has helped can be the approach that flips the “on” switch for many donors. Leave out identifying information to protect your clients’ confidentiality. Tell their story with accuracy as well as heart.
  • For those who are open to telling their own story, give them an opportunity to say “thank you” to donors. This could be done by publishing excerpts from letters, original art work, brief snippets of a video interview, etc. Be sure the client is informed and agrees, in writing, to the ways in which you intend to use what they share with you.

The year-end giving season is practically upon us. Don’t miss an opportunity to re-tell your mission in creative ways. If you need help, email me at danniewriter@gmail.com or call (502) 432-8725.


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