An except from an actual audit, anonymized…

In your 2018 appeal, a patient and breast cancer survivor tells her story and signs the letter. [the audit began]

The appeal gushes about the hospital’s care, with fervent testimonial: “But when I chose XYZ Hospital for my care, I found hope. And I was blown away. For me, XYZ Hospital’s excellent care and compassionate support was a key factor in helping me manage my cancer with the most positive outlook possible.”

But where’s the donor? [the audit asked]

The donor comes onstage in the fifth paragraph, when the word “you” appears for the first time in a way that directly addresses the reader.

In my view, that’s a slow start.

We hear it all the time in fundraising: tell stories.

But stories by themselves do not raise money. There has to be emotional involvement, too. Stories “that involve us emotionally are the stories that move us to action,” psychologist Paul Zak discovered in his research. And moving us to action can = making a gift.

Ride on the YOU train [the audit advised]

The sooner I see the word “you,” the sooner I’m involved emotionally. I stop following along intellectually. Now it’s personal.

Until that special word [YOU] appears, your letter isn’t really about me … it’s about the hospital and someone else.

The writing is good, objectively. [the audit reassured]

As public relations, it’s a winner! As information, it’s well stated!

But as a fundraising sales strategy, I question whether bragging so much about the quality of care will ever result in very much charity.

Of course, your community is happy to know the hospital is great at medicine. But why would the community’s respect for your skills translate into a gift?

Nine paragraphs down, the hospital finally gets over itself and admits that it “depends on charitable gifts.”

It sounds grudging, not grateful.

I, for one, am not convinced.

What’s the true purpose of donor communications? [the audit rhetorically asked]

You have two basic approaches to choose from.

The default approach — let’s call it the “boasting” approach — is what you’re currently doing: you focus on how wonderful the hospital is … and hope people will reward you for doing your job very well.

When you’re selling hip replacements or cancer treatment, that approach works.

When you’re fundraising, it doesn’t.

The research is clear: people give to organization’s they already more or less trust. Which means: you really don’t have to prove yourself. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.

The alternative approach — let’s call it the “appreciation” approach — focuses on how wonderful the donor is. That approach will have the highest return on investment, as 30 years of testing have shown.

One hospital foundation I know saw giving in response to its donor newsletter rise 1,000% between one issue and the next … when it changed to the “donor wonderful” approach.

Before, it had raised $5,000 per issue. After, it began raising $50,000 per issue.

And that higher ROI continues today, more than a decade after the switch.

Here’s comes the big secret [as promised]

The goal of donor communications is simply to make the donor happy.

The goal is not to educate donors, nor impress them.

The goal is to deliver joy because — as a direct result — you can expect giving to rise … even SOAR.

If you say you like your donors, they’ll like you back.

If you say you love them, they’ll give you stronger support in return.

This will probably require quite a bit of flattery, more than you might think you’re capable of.

Practice. You’ll get there.

Boasting, of course, is easier.

But appreciation raises more money.

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