Aim high when you talk to donors about how much they care

I was talking to a fundraiser for a medical charity about how they talk to their donors.

They had a pretty amazing advantage: A large majority of their donors had close personal connection with the disease the charity was focused on. The donors came in several groups:

  1. People who have the disease.
  2. Close family member of people who have the disease.
  3. People who know people who have the disease.
  4. People with only casual connection to the disease.

As you can see, there are sort of concentric rings of connection, starting with people very close to the cause and going all the way out to a group that has only a slight connection. As you’d expect, retention rates for the top groups are very high, but very low for the bottom group.

The organization handled this variation in audience connection by making sure they what they said “worked” for the lowest-connection group … under the assumption that whatever you say to the low-connection people is also true of those more connected. After all, you don’t want to say, I know you care because you have the disease to people who don’t have the disease.

This concern for “accuracy” was killing their messaging. They would never say, I know you care because you know this disease very well — because, they reasoned, some people on the file (a fairly small percentage) probably didn’t know much about the disease.

All their messaging was “dumbed down” to the lowest common denominator of connection.

And fundraising wasn’t going very well.

There’s a better solution to the variation in audience that most nonprofits face to some degree: Why not give your lower-connection people “credit” for caring and knowing more than they do? You might be surprised at how much they do care.

Why not talk about the disease as a real and up-close thing to all donors?

Does it seem likely that low-connection donors going to be upset or insulted if you assume they care more deeply than they actually care?

Surely that’s better than sending low-connection messages to your deeply connected people!

Every time I buy an Apple product, it comes with a couple of little Apple logo stickers. I’m never going to put those on anything. I’m just not that big a fan. And I don’t know the numbers, but I feel confident in guessing that I’m in the majority of their customers.

But they treat all of us as fanatics.

They don’t say Only 30% of our customers will use our stickers; let’s stop including them. They know it’s better to aim at your closest audience. You do no harm to the others, and you just might inspire a few low-connection people to climb the ladder.


Comments

2 responses to “Aim high when you talk to donors about how much they care”

  1. Wouldn’t it be better to send different messages to different audiences?

  2. Wouldn’t it be better to send different messages to different audiences?

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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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