The New Lexicon of Fundraising Part 4
“Emotions are the lubricants of reason.” F.Yakob
When you first become a fundraiser the focus is on techniques, channels and strategies, learning the art and craft of fundraising. It takes time to realise that all of these elements are actually hygiene factors and that the real ‘substance’ of fundraising is understanding the need and immersing yourself in all the dimensions of the charity’s work. Established fundraisers know that all great fundraising is ‘needs led’ and this runs as a core through great fundraising programmes; connecting the donors thoughts, values and emotions.
But is the word ‘needs’ the right description of the core of our activities? We talk about our programmes and our services, but again these are technical internal terms that have little resonance with donors. Donors surely need to hear about problems, challenges, opportunities, missions, journeys, adventures and actions that are making the world a better place; remembering that ‘world’ can apply to a local community as much as it can to the planet. People will respond to meet a ‘need’ but will they truly connect and perhaps offer a relationship with that need?
Beyond need the next most common term that we use is ‘case’, the ‘case for support’. At the moment a term that has had a major renaissance in line with the growing focus on leadership giving; but have you ever stopped to think where this term comes from? Simple really, the legal profession; in the early days of developing professional fundraising people felt that to appeal to major donors they needed to think differently and rather than fall back on a business plan they decided that there were many similarities with the legal profession where you had to develop comprehensive, water-tight cases for either the defense or the prosecution. As a lawyer your job was to argue and evidence your corner to win the case. Perhaps in the 1950s this was cutting edge thinking, but now?
So the emerging word for the twenty first century fundraiser is, ironically the oldest word of them all, ‘stories’. Ira Glass once said ”great stories happen to those that can tell them” and as fundraisers we want great stories of delighting donors and connecting them to something far more meaningful than money. Like the commercial sector we are now fully awake to the understanding that using facts leads to conclusions, but using emotions leads to action ; look at advertising today from the world’s biggest brands, they no longer balance between features and benefits they now create stories that connect to emotions. The busier people’s lives become the more they look for simplicity and connection, hence the power of stories. Stories provide the human touch and create warmth, connection, interest, surprise and delight.
Have you ever thought that the words we use to describe our work in mailings, publications and on the web actually have no meaning?!? For charities words are ‘triggers’ that set off images, memories and emotions in our mind. So the more factual and bland the words we use are the more unlikely we are to get the right reaction to our work. Before stories became the central theme of our thinking, I liked the analogy of the charity and the oyster, our job as fundraisers is to be the grain of sand that is inserted into the oyster to irritate it in the hope of creating a pearl. No fundraiser should ever simply take what a charity says about its work and then promote that onto the donor. Our job is to question what the charity does, using the most powerful tool of all: asking why? And keep asking why until you go deeper and deeper. Fundraisers are the donors’ champions in charities, representing their interests as investors and constantly seeking new stories to inspire the donor and bring them joy from their giving.
Stories need characters, plots, themes, imagination and channels for them to be communicated. They need a beginning, a middle and an end. Stories feed the donor’s heart, spirit and head. Always remember that people don’t really give to causes, they give to ideas, values and people.
Some readers will feel that they have heard much of this before, but the reality is that this is not a passing trend, it is here to stay and it is not something you can simply ‘dip into’ when it suits, it is a whole marketing philosophy that needs to be consistent and built over time. Human beings have always related to stories but now they need them more than ever to make sense of the world and to feel that their actions really can make a difference.