Barely Controlled Emotion: 4 Ways to Fire Up Donor Passions

Fundraisers have a heavy burden, especially when there’s a long list of rules to follow in our fundraising communication to please all the internal pundits. It’s easy to lose focus on the experts in donor loyalty—the donors themselves. So what are the building blocks for donor loyalty?

Abila recently released a report, “Donor Loyalty Study: A Deep Dive into Donor Behaviors and Attitudes.” (Just remember to filter this—like all research—through your own testing or results. After all, when asked a question, people can say what they wish was true as opposed to what they actually do.) Early in the report, there’s a graphic showing why people donate. The most important driver was, “I am passionate about the cause.” OK, that’s Fundraising 101—finding people who are passionate about your cause and keeping them passionate. But the second most important driver identified in the research takes this one step further: “I know that the organization I care about depends on me.” These 11 words contain two very important concepts: First, I (the donor) must be passionate about your organization, and, second, I (the donor) must know that your organization is passionate about me.

When I Googled “passion,” the first definition that came up was, “strong and barely controllable emotion.” Wow. Can you imagine what our nonprofit organizations could accomplish if people with barely controlled emotion supported them?

So how do we help our donors feel more passion, and, at the same time, show them they really, truly do matter?

  1. Use more adjectives. Yep, those pesky adjectives that describe the noun that copy editors too often strike out. “A person affected by the hurricane” doesn’t stir up nearly the same passion as “A woman, hunched over in grief, as she looked at the pile of rubble that used to be her home.”
  2. Use photos that tell stories instead of just fill space on the page or screen. I received a direct-mail letter from a large nonprofit recently, so I opened it to see what (if any) photos it used. There was only one, and despite the topic being fairly emotional, the photo left me feeling empty for a lot of reasons. (The caption under it was even worse—total program-speak.) Photos have to increase the emotional connection to the need we want the donor to help solve. If they don’t, don’t use them.
  3. Invite the donors to celebrate with you. Yes, need—not success—raises money. But never seeing any results leads to giving up. So, use your non-fundraising or “fundraising light” communications to share the good news. For example, put a one-third sheet inserts in receipts that has stories of something great that happened because donors gave. It is an inexpensive way to use something you already are mailing out (you are receipting your donors, aren’t you?) to show donors what they are making possible.
  4. Make saying “thank you” more about your donors than about your organization. It’s easy to turn our “thank you” into an “it’s all about us” message: “Thank you for your gift that helped us do …” Instead, put the focus on your donor: “Thank you for your gift. It came at just the right time! You are such a special person to us, and every day we are reminded that this work is only possible because of your generosity.” Cold, clinical language may be fine in a medical report, but our job is to create passion.

The other day, I received an email from someone for whom I had done a small something. Sure, it was a “good deed,” but it wasn’t spectacular. Yet, the email I received had this as a subject line: “I’m pretty sure you’re the nicest person I’ve ever met.” You can bet that jumped out at me in my inbox because it made me feel special. And I assure you, I’ll want to do something nice for that person again and again.

This old dog knows that when you’re busy, just getting the job done is hard enough without having to think whether we’re helping the donor increase his or her passion and feel needed. But those are raw ingredients for creating donors who are loyal. Let’s strive for barely controlled emotion!

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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