Monday, October 3, 2011

Do your donor profiles deliver results?

Good marketers – and particularly fundraising marketers are always looking for good stories. A really effective form of storytelling is the donor profile. It’s an opportunity to present the case for giving in a way that’s personal and compelling. It’s a great way to motivate some donors while allowing others to feel validated. And of course it’s an ideal way to cultivate the donor that’s being profiled.

The problem is that many donor profiles end up sounding cold, simply repeating the messages that are part of the case for giving. Many times they could have been written about any donor – almost according to a formula. “For many years (insert donor name here) have been proud to support ABC because they know that it is brightening the lives of those that it serves by...”

Here are some ways you can ensure that your donor profiles deliver results.

Insist on an interview
Don’t settle for the donor’s biography, articles about him or her and a giving record as the basis for your profile. You need to speak to the person directly. Donors are often busy so this will require some planning and lots of flexibility. But the opportunity to speak personally will make a huge difference.

Ask the right questions
The right questions will yield the material you need for a good profile. Clearly there are some questions that must be asked. “Why do you support ABC?” is an obvious example. I addition, try asking questions that are likely to elicit more emotional responses like, “Is there a personal or family experience that makes your support of ABC more meaningful?” Also, people tend to prepare for interviews and have responses ready for the expected questions. As a result they often sound cold and rigid. Ask the unexpected question like, “If you were fundraising for ABC, what would your appeal be?”

Get stories and anecdotes
A summary of the donor’s philosophy and personal case for giving will be dry and frankly boring. You want to know about the personal experiences that are behind the donor’s support. Ask them about their personal interaction with the organization or the constituents it serves. Perhaps there’s a story from their past that accounts for their giving. If the donor profile is itself a story, then it’s the stories within that story that will make it rich.

Write from – and to the heart
You cannot overestimate the degree to which giving decisions are made emotionally. So, if you are going to accurately convey the donor’s reasons for giving, you must know and be able to present the emotional basis for their support. On top of that, your profile won’t be an incentive to any other donor without words that come right from the heart.

Use their words, not yours
A good interview using the right questions should yield lots of great quotes and comments. Let those tell the story. Use just enough narrative to hold them together and add context. Readers want to know about the donor more than your perception of the donor.

Open and close with a theme.
In reviewing your notes or recording of the interview, look for a recurring theme that can be the basis of a headline, opening sentence and a powerful ending. Some times donors will make that theme explicit but other times you may have to review the interview a few times. Often times it’s the response to a very particular question will apply generally to the donor’s support.

One final suggestion - that may not always be possible. While many donors are listed individually, they often view their spouse as a partner in their charitable giving. Interviewing the donor and his or her spouse will add tremendous depth and perspective to an interview. You will almost definitely get different answers to questions from each spouse. If nothing else it will give you more material with which to make the profile more powerful.

Hopefully these ideas will help make your donor profiles more interesting and more effective – and ultimately make your fundraising more successful.

I’m sure there are many of you with other – and probably better suggestions. Please share them.

Image from digitalart /