You don’t have to look further than the presidential elections to see that we mortal humans respond to emotional drivers. We respond to emotion in much more profound ways than we do to logical, rational arguments. It’s just how we’re wired.
And no matter your politics, there is a lesson (or six) to be learned from the candidates in November’s race: they’re all superb storytellers.
What we see happening across the political landscape can-and should-be replicated in the field of fundraising. Because nothing connects donors to a cause quicker than an expertly-told story.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked 11-year-old Abigail. “I’ve been in three different foster homes in the last year,” she said. “I don’t dream very big.”
I wish you could have seen the look on her face. She was unemotional. Unfazed that where we come from, that answer is unacceptable. Every child should dare to dream. Luckily, Abigail has you in her life.
Believe it or not, statistics can kill your case for giving. Statistics appeal to logic, and logic often dictates that problems (like hunger or poverty) are too big to solve. Logic often dictates that a donor’s contribution will be a miniscule sliver of an enormous pie, a drop in an ocean. Logic often distracts from the sense of urgency.
When you talk about the 15,000 people going hungry… when you talk about the 8,000 care packages you delivered… when you talk about the 300 dogs that were euthanized…you’re failing to make an emotional connection with the donor.
Abigail, however, changes all of that.
Stories that focus on a single individual make the problem-at-hand manageable. Stories that don’t shift attention away from the donor create emotional connections. Stories make donors want to help. Stories are the most powerful form of fundraising.
Storytelling has become such a vital ingredient for fundraising. As a result, there is now an entire annual conference dedicated to it.
Most nonprofits we’ve worked with, however, can’t quite seem to make the full turn away from statistics. They simply need that box in their newsletter that hoots and hollers about how much they’ve accomplished, how many people they’ve helped, and how many more people need their assistance.
These boxes-or soliloquies if done in person-aren’t just ineffective; they’re hurtful to the cause. They make donors feel like they’re either not necessary (because the organization has already accomplished so much!) or totally unhelpful (15,000 people hungry? We’ll never feed all of them.).
These boxes shift attention away from the donor and onto the organization, something fundraisers should never do. One of the forefathers of donor-centric fundraising, Jeff Brooks, cites 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. Make it a habit to include “Because Of You” with everything you say:
Our programs help homeless people all over the city Because Of You.
There are long stretches of beautiful open beaches and shorelines in our state Because Of You.
New audience members enjoyed the ballet this year, including hundreds of elementary school kids Because Of You.”
If you can’t add “Because Of You” to a statement, it’s a sure-fire sign that you’re bragging and that the statement is not donor-focused.
There are certain crucial ingredients to a great story, and donor-centricity is one of them. Make it emotional and make it about the donor. Once you’ve established that emotional connection, you’ve done the heavy lifting.
All that’s left is showing them that they are the solution to the problem. By donating, Abigail’s future suddenly looks mighty bright.
Raimy Rubin is Manager of the Pittsburgh Jewish Community Scorecard and the Creative Director for CauseMatch. He helps nonprofits tell their story and grow their fundraising success.