When it comes to fundraising for our non-profit, we all share a common goal – we want people to care. We believe that if they care, they are more likely to be engaged with our organization’s work and in turn more willing to make a gift. But here’s where things start to go south – most non-profits try to get people to care by showing them a myriad of statistics and data about their work or the cause. It’s our way of trying to prove our needs are urgent and important. But is this approach really working?
The task of getting someone to care is really an act of artfully orchestrated influence and persuasion. That’s why we have been using the same tried and true techniques for writing direct mail copy for years, isn’t it? But as the years pass, there is a need to refresh our approaches to influencing and persuading our donors. It’s not just about presenting them with logical arguments that usually include our statistics and data. We must make the statistics and data relevant to our audience. That is how we take bigger strides towards getting them to care about our work. And we can do this with data of a different kind!
It’s All Relative
There has been so much chatter in the non-profit sector about why our donors’ eyes begin to glaze over every time they are forced to read statistics about our work. Most will suggest that that’s because numbers are boring and are not engaging enough. While that’s true, there is a deeper truth to recognize. Statistics are boring and not engaging because they don’t appear relevant to the donor. For instance, I might read that 1 in 10 Canadians are affected mental illness in an appeal email. But if I’m not personally dealing with a mental illness, I’m likely to say, “So what?” The answer this question may be the Rosetta Stone of fundraising.
Answering this question is not meant to be easy. Just as with all things in fundraising, we have to work hard at it and sometimes it can feel like throwing spaghetti at the wall, praying that at least one piece sticks. Ironically the path to answering this question for your donors starts by answering another question – what is my donor’s life like? To that end, we need data for a different reason.
What Are Your Donors Really Like?
In The Art of Explanation, Lee LeFever suggests that the process of explaining something to another person is an exercise of understanding where they are at (point A) and where you want them to be (point F). Now in getting to point F, there are lots of other things this person may need to know and it becomes our job to facilitate their learning along the way.
To make this facilitation process as effective as possible, I believe that we need to have a good picture of what our donors’ lives might be like. We need to know their context so that we can make the information relevant to them, in turn eliciting an emotional reaction. Creating an audience profile is exercise that can be immensely useful in this process.
Consider these questions to begin creating an audience profile:
1. What’s their age range?
2. Where do they live? What neighborhoods?
3. What other causes might they give to?
4. What do the do for a living?
5. What’s their history with your organization?
You can unearth some of this information in your database by pulling datasets and doing some basic analysis. Some of it you can find out through donor surveys. In some cases, you might find it valuable to create more than one audience profile to represent different segments of your donors.
Using Your Data Wisely
We started out examining this issue of getting our donors to care more and we established that in order to do that, we have to make the information relevant to them. Determining relevance is a process of gaining a deeper understanding of our audience, which you have done by putting together an audience profile. This information is only valuable to you if you are actively using it to make decisions – data driven decisions specifically – which requires us to use our audience profile as a filter for making decisions.
For example, let’s say I wanted to include the statistic of 1 in 10 Canadians being affected by mental illness in an upcoming appeal. I would ask myself – given what I know about my audience, will this information be relevant to them? If the answer is no, then go a level deeper to ask – how can I make this relevant to them based on what I know about them?
As I suspect our friend, Lee LeFever, would say, it’s a matter of contextualizing the information. Using a story is a great way to achieve this. Science has shown that our brains are more active when we hear or read a story, which means that we’ll be making more of an effort to engage with the material. Furthermore, “Whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences,” says Leo Widrich. In other words, we able to contextualize information on our own terms. How cool is that?!
Maybe the real challenge in non-profit fundraising is not distilling the data and getting people to connect with the numbers. Maybe we’ve had it backwards for years. We don’t need to find more creative ways to present our data to make it seem interesting. Perhaps it’s about finding the right story that will make form an emotional bond between the donor and the cause. After that, the numbers just fall into place.