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Make It All about the Donor

Adapted from The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications: Real-World, Field-Tested Strategies to Raise More Money

How many people do you know who drink Coke because they respect the Coca-Cola Company? Probably none, unless you live in Atlanta.

People drink Coke because they like the way it tastes. Or, more likely, because it's on sale.

The Coca-Cola Company sells its product by appealing to people's inner reasons for buying Coke. They don't ask, "How can we make people think our company is great?" They ask, "What do people want, and how can we convince them we deliver that?"

I don't have inside knowledge about the Coca-Cola Company, but I'll bet some of the most important people there are chemists. (I imagine they're called something more impressive, like "flavor engineers.") Their job is to make sure Coke turns out right.

If the chemists didn't do their job and Coke started to taste like cod liver oil, the whole Coke premise would collapse. But they do their job. Coke tastes like Coke.

I can picture what happens every time there's a new marketing campaign for Coke: "It's the real thing," "Life begins here," "Coke is it."

Those poor chemists tear their hair out. "Are you kidding me?" they say. "These campaigns are so vague! So completely unconnected to our critical mission of keeping Coke within acceptable parameters."

But the marketing plugs along, stubbornly appealing to people's self-centered reasons. And that's how you sell 1.6 billion Cokes every day.

I wish more nonprofits would think about their fundraising the way Coca-Cola thinks about marketing. Because they'd raise a lot more money and do a lot more good.

The best lesson you can draw from Coke's marketing is this: talk to donors where they are, not where you want them to be.

We as a profession are way behind the soft-drink industry in our understanding of customers. But there's a lot we can do right now, with the knowledge and tools we have. The most important step is to learn from our relationships.

Your mother (or someone, I hope) told you that to get along with others, you should focus on them, not yourself. Right?

For example, the worst way to make someone think you're cool is to tell them you're cool. In fact, telling people you're cool is generally proof you're not cool at all. It's the same in fundraising.

Suppose you're the best cancer hospital in the region. Naturally, you'll be tempted to say, We're the best cancer hospital in the region. (And when you're marketing to potential patients, that's what you should say.)

But in fundraising, you need to put a donor twist on that fact. Something like, Here's your opportunity to make meaningful progress in the fight against cancer.

The basic statements you use to describe your work can become powerful fundraising propositions when you make them about donors:

We feed hungry people should be You feed hungry people.

We are conquering asthma should be You are conquering asthma.

We are building a strong ballet company in the Tri-City area should be You can build a strong ballet company in the Tri-City area.

"We" statements invite no response. They have nothing to do with the donor, so there's little chance of stirring her to action. You're like an energetic four-year-old who keeps calling out, "Mommy, look at me! I have a bowl on my head! Daddy, look at me! I'm walking backwards!"

A four-year-old has an excuse: he hasn't yet learned that talking about himself isn't a good way to hold a conversation. A fundraiser can and should do better.

Facts about your organization and your work can be part of good fundraising, but only after you bring those facts into the donor's world—when you make them relevant, not self-focused bragging:

Bragging: We've been reaching out to the homeless in the community for 53 years.

Smart Fundraising: Like you, we're part of this community. With the help of good neighbors like you, we've been feeding the homeless here since 1959.

Bragging: Our way of distributing food is twice as efficient as anyone else's.

Smart Fundraising: You'll stretch your dollars when you give, because we'll use your gift in an efficient way that gets twice as much food to the hungry for every dollar you give.

Think about it this way. You're not raising money to fund your organization. You're enabling your donors to make the world a better place—through your organization. That means the only facts that matter in fundraising are those you can directly connect to donors. To do that, apply the BOY Rule.

BOY stands for "Because Of You." It means you never lose a chance to credit donors for the good work your organization does:

Our programs help homeless people all over our city Because Of You.

There are long stretches of beautiful open beaches and shoreline in our state Because Of You.

New audience members enjoyed the ballet this year, including hundreds of elementary school kids, Because Of You.

Sometimes you can't find a meaningful Because Of You. That's a clear sign you're just bragging. "Our president has written 17 books on all facets of Baltic folk dancing Because Of You" hardly works.

Other facts aren't interesting to donors, like: "Our headquarters has electricity and running water Because Of You"—true, but not likely to capture anyone's heart.

Here's what's most important to remember. Post it on your wall. Tattoo it on your forearm: Donors don't give because your organization is great. They give because they themselves are great.

Jeff Brooks
© 2012, Emerson & Church, Publishers. Adapted from The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications: Real-World, Field-Tested Strategies to Raise More Money; adapted with permission.

make-fundraising-all-about-the-donor_jeff-brooks.jpgJeff Brooks, creative director at TrueSense Marketing, has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 20 years, working as a copywriter and creative director on behalf of some of the best nonprofits of North America and Europe. His clients have included St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, CARE, The Salvation Army, Ronald McDonald House, World Vision, Feeding America, the American Cancer Society, and many more. He is deeply grateful to be part of an industry that makes the world a better place.

Topics: Fundraising