It’s Not About You
What makes for a catchy nursery rhyme does not play well in fundraising. If your donor materials still echo the tiniest little piggy’s refrain – “we, we, we” – it’s time to sing a different tune that touches hearts.
It’s not about you!
“People don’t give to our ministries because ‘we’ are so great,” explains Jim Bakke, executive director for Barnabas Foundation. “People give because they want to be part of something greater.”
We must connect with their hearts.
Supporters will give token offerings to a variety of ministries just because they are asked. If we want to foster long-term relationships, however, we must connect with their hearts. It is their hearts that keep them giving beyond the courtesy, compelling them to invest their time, energy, thoughts, prayers and money.
Tell the Right Story
Yet, most of the time, we’re telling the wrong story.
“We can get so narcissistic in our fundraising that we miss making the connection,” says Bakke. “Telling them our financial needs only makes sense after we've talked to them about transformation.”
A recent series of reports out of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy underscore this power of heart connections. They found that supporters were more likely to give to organizations with which they had a personal connection and from whom they had received empathic messaging. Supporters were also more inclined to give repeatedly if they believed in the organization’s mission.
Making the Connection
What does it take to make that kind of connection to your supporters’ hearts?
Connect your mission to their passions.
Take time to reflect on the motivations, desires and experiences of your current and potential ministry supporters. Ask questions, invite them to engage and seek a greater understanding of who your supporters are and what makes them tick.
Who are the people most likely to invest in your mission? Of all the causes in the world, why would they choose yours? What are they thinking about? With whom and where are they spending their time? What are their hopes? What are their fears? Also, what messages are they hearing from the world? Develop a visual, written and/or imagined representation of your typical supporter. Then keep that persona at the forefront of your mind as you craft your messaging.
Tell the story of one.
We love to share statistics showing total impact, but big numbers only get us so far. It’s the individual stories of transformation that really stick. Tell the story of one.
Uncover and share impact stories that will capture your supporters’ hearts and spark their imaginations.
Uncover and share impact stories that will capture your supporters’ hearts and spark their imaginations. Rather than writing about the thousands of lives that were changed last year, describe the impact on one child, one mother, one family, one village.
Write compelling donor stories to share the ripple effect that one individual or couple can have through their generosity. Change the narrative about societal giving norms by using emotive words and authentic images to illustrate the lifestyles, motivations, behaviors and joy of people just like them. Describe how that one person caught the vision and why their giving makes all the difference.
Invite them into transformation.
Stop treating your supporters as the means to the mission. Instead, invite them to be the carriers and doers of the mission. Change the paradigm. They are not casual bystanders fronting the bills; they are active participants in your ministry’s transformational work. Eliminate the middleman, i.e., the “we.”
In his June 2022 LinkedIn article, “The Donor and the Universal Hero Story,” Dr. Russell James, professor of charitable financial planning at Texas Tech University, writes that the desire for heroism is universal.
“No one wants an obituary that reads simply, ‘He made a lot of money,’” he explains. “Through philanthropy, donors can support meaningful values that transcend their own lives. They can impact others beyond themselves. They can leave a legacy that will last beyond their own lives. In short, philanthropy allows donors to be heroic.”
For Christians, that desire often goes even deeper.
Your supporters may or may not want the accolades or to have their names go down in history. They do want to know they’ve made a difference. They want to be part of his story. Their desire is to replicate what they’ve seen Jesus do in and through them by sharing his hope, his love, his freedom in a broken world. By inviting them to support your mission, you offer them a practical and meaningful way to accomplish that kind of impact.
Following God’s Leading
Above all else, connecting with supporters’ hearts requires our own obedience to God’s leading.
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).
“Everything” certainly includes our supporters, our ministries, our day jobs. This is his work, not ours. Apart from him, we can do nothing.
So, before you type, post or produce a single message, pray for his words. Pray for his creativity. Pray for his wisdom. Ask, "What are you calling your people to do, Lord? In what ways do you want to speak through me?"
Ministries flourish and supporters are fulfilled when our hearts beat in rhythm with the Father’s.
Heather M. Day, director of marketing for Barnabas Foundation, has 20-plus years of leadership experience in the fields of marketing, communications and fundraising. She holds a bachelor’s degree and an executive MBA from Olivet Nazarene University.
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