Thursday, June 30, 2011

The heart of fundraising success

Sales is a transfer of emotion. That lesson was drummed into me early in my working life. If you want to make a sale, you’re going to have to make someone feel something and your job is to figure out the right emotion for the right person. It’s taken me a long time to accept the tyranny of that principle. I often want to believe that people buy/give for rational reasons – that they research, comparing objective criteria and make decisions on that basis. But that’s not reality and some recent online material as well as a research project in which I’m involved have made me think about the extent to which the heart rules the head when it comes to giving decisions.

A recent post from my Torontonian colleagues at Nyman Ink explored the concept of Emotional Branding, even citing a Wikipedia entry.

But isn’t all branding emotional? Seth Godin defines a brand as “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” – or in fundraising terms to donate to one cause over another. How do you even begin to separate the emotional from the rational in that definition? And why bother?

Katya Andresen focused on analysis vs. emotion in a post earlier this week that presents data/studies that not surprisingly confirm that emotion trumps analysis – as I would say it does every time.

That led me to a really interesting post by consultant Tony Macklin and his “Grand Unified Theory of Donor Desire.” Tony says, "if you want to increase charitable giving, first, listen to a person’s story and hopes. He asserts that perspectives on effective philanthropy will always take a back seat to the “fundamental search for meaning and belonging.”

The last online piece is the Money for Good study recently released by Hope Consulting. Their research consists of over 4,00 interviews with individuals representing household incomes of more than $80K. These are the people that you might think are most rationally discerning about their giving. However, the study concludes, “Few donors do research before they give, and those that do look to the nonprofit itself to provide simple information about efficiency and effectiveness.” Moreover, they found that, ” While donors say they care about nonprofit performance, very few actively donate to the highest performing nonprofits.”

All of this is borne out by research in which I am involved based on interviews with Canada’s top philanthropists. One of the most often cited criteria in major gifts decisions is the passion of the person that is driving the organization or project. Hardly an empirical or rational measure. Even at the major gift level, emotion is the major determinant.

The implication for fundraisers and marketers is clear. If you want someone to give to your cause, you’re going to have to make her feel something – even at the highest levels. And while you can’t ignore the need for clear information and accountability, the more you pitch to the heart, the more successful you will be.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Reality trumps advice

If you ever wonder whether fundraising theory and advice really work in practice, you’ll want to read this.

This is a story about my friend Ephraim who is a fundraiser on behalf of an educational institution overseas. He has been coming here twice a year for the past six years to raise money for the organization. His appeal has always been for the unrestricted funds that will allow the institution to continue to operate. Over the years he has enjoyed moderate success.

On his latest trip however Ephraim’s case for giving changed. A project had emerged. The organization needs $2 million over the next three months to take advantage of an opportunity that has arisen. With the money, they will be able to secure permanent housing for many of their students.

They began their fundraising efforts in their local community, aggressively reaching out to previous supporters, families of current students and alumni. They met with success. They also secured financing from local banks. By the time Ephraim came to Canada, 75% of the needed funds were in place.

At each appointment he described the project, its benefit to the organization and the time constraints. Then he talked about what they had already done to raise money and detailed the success they were having.

This has been his most successful fundraising trip ever. The response has been overwhelming with donors adding significantly to what they have given in the past and a number of new donors coming on board.

While there are many reasons for Ephraim’s success, I would point to three in particular. Not only do they account for the success of this appeal, they provide an action plan for the messaging in any campaign.

Purpose – donors knew exactly what the money was going to be used for. More importantly they understood the benefit to the organization. In turn, that meant there was a clear value proposition for donors. They knew exactly how they could make a difference.

Urgency – there was a definite time frame in which the money was needed and a reason for that window of opportunity. Donors understood that these were extraordinary circumstances and that the organization needed the money now.

Momentum – donors wanted to jump on the bandwagon. The efforts that had been taken locally built confidence and were inspiring. There’s something counter-intuitive at play here. You might think that the organization’s local success would lead donors to believe that they didn’t have to give. But the truth is that everyone loves a winner and demonstrating success is in fact motivational to donors.

It seems to me that any time you can authentically represent these three factors – purpose, urgency and momentum – in an appeal or a campaign, you will improve results.

But don’t take my word for it. Take Ephraim’s.