How fundraising sometimes fails to connect by ignoring its audience

I saw this CDC display in an airport the other day. It’s not a fundraising message, but it makes a communication error that’s often made in fundraising:

Hepatitisc

Here’s the error: They’re talking about the issue from their own point of view, not that of their audience.

If you work at the CDC, your picture of Hepatitis C is that it’s a big and widespread problem. So a lot of faces superimposed on a map captures that sense. For you. And the final line: Early detection can save lives is a crystallizing and motivating statement of the problem and its solution.

But that’s not at all what this issue looks like to the intended audience — the people who might be at risk for Hepatitis C and ought to get tested. To them (us), the issue is that anyone, including you, could have the disease and not know it. So we should get tested, because that might save our lives. That final line should be Early detection can save your life.

By talking about the issue from the insider point of view, they’ve reduced it to an abstraction for the rest of us. At best, we might nod and think, “Yep, early detection can save lives.”

What we should be thinking is, Yikes! I’d better get early detection, because it could save my life!

In fundraising, this error is called Fundraising From Yourself (FFY).

A common version of this error is made by anti-poverty organizations. They sometimes make their fundraising about eliminating poverty. That’s a beautiful vision. And a great call to action for anti-poverty professionals.

But to everyone else, it’s an abstraction. Not a call to action. Donors see eliminate poverty and just walk past. If they think about it at all, they probably agree. But since they aren’t being called to a specific and bite-sized action, they don’t take action.

Don’t let this happen to your fundraising messages. Think about your issue from your donors’ point of view. Make a specific and concrete call to action.

Don’t fundraise from yourself. Fundraise from those who you want to make the donations.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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