Direct Response That Breaks Through: Capturing Attention (at Least for a Minute)

In fewer than six months, we’ll know who will be the president of the United States for the next four years, the latest Olympic gold medalists will be staring at us from cereal boxes, the World Series will be over, and Valentine’s Day merchandise will be on the shelves while “Silver Bells” plays over the loud speaker.
Let’s face it — getting the attention of our donors is never easy, and big events that capture everyone’s attention don’t help. As fundraisers, we’re constantly fighting against the clutter that fills mailboxes, inboxes and pretty much every other place our donors turn.

For larger nonprofits, testing to find the design, teaser or subject line, copy, offer, premium, and so much else that best capture attention is standard operating procedure. But for the smaller nonprofit, budgets often won’t stretch that far, and your only chance to break through to donors has to be your best effort. “Undivided attention” seems like an impossible dream these days, but these reminders can help you break in to busy lives and get donors to stop and at least consider if what you’re saying in your direct-response mail, e-mail and other efforts is worth listening to.

Put it in the context of ‘me’
Too many fundraising messages are about abstract problems that affect someone else. The great messages that get read (at least by me) find a way to take that problem and make it meaningful to me. Our job is to find the part of the problem that is going to resonate best with donors. For example, I recently read that hunger among older Americans is skewed toward women, and those hardest hit aren’t that much older than I am. That puts a face on the problem — and it looks a lot like mine. Knowing the demographics of your donor file, and then finding a way to bring the need home to that target audience, helps your offer stand out from the others.

Show me what part of the problem I can solve
There are huge needs that deserve support, but it’s critical in direct response to tell the donor what he or she can do about it. Let’s face it: Most of us know that on our own, we can’t solve world hunger, global warming, animal cruelty or your budget crisis that requires millions of dollars. Frankly, we’re just trying to figure out what that funny noise is when we start the car. Be sure you serve up the problem at a manageable — and believable — level. Tailoring the ask amount to the donor’s last, largest or average gift is fairly common, but if you can’t do this, breaking down the problem to a level a donor can relate to gives assurance that what he or she does matters.

Tell me a good story, but don’t only have a happy ending
It’s important to show your donors that you — with their help — are making a lasting difference. A story helps your supporter visualize the value of the work you do. But avoid “and they all lived happily ever after.” When you tell a great story of success, be sure to broaden it out and remind donors that this is a wonderful example of the good things their support makes possible, but that there are many more still waiting for this same “happy ending.” It’s easy to be excited about the good things we’ve done (and we deserve to be), but keep in mind that donors only know what you tell them. They may not realize (or take the time to remember) that there is still more to accomplish — and with their help, you will make that happen, too — unless you show them the need.

I won’t make a prediction on the election or who gets the gold medal in rowing, or even suggest that the Cubs will finally win a World Series. But nonprofits — large or small — that continually ask, “How can I break through?” have the best opportunity to bring home the gold in terms of fundraising success.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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