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Friday, 8 July 2011

Making it real

by Lucy Gower

We know that people make decisions based on emotion. Great fundraisers deliberately seek ways to develop emotional connections between their donors and their cause. This is usually achieved in a number of ways, through storytelling, use of language, images and film.

If you need any evidence check out the story of the Explore the Bay campaign for Save the Bay that raised $11 million. Fundraising board members Joan Abrams and Kate Kilguss discovered that reconnecting people to their own relationship to the Bay was the key to inspiring them to give.

David Brooks, author of The Social Animal (Random House Inc, USA, 2011), wrote: ‘Reason is nestled upon emotion and dependent upon it. Emotion assigns value to things and reason can only make choices on the basis of those valuations.’

We also know that fundraising is hard. Fundraising is becoming increasingly competitive with thousands of ‘good causes’ trying to attract income from limited resources. Fundraising is a business discipline and, like any business, charitable organisations must be constantly innovating and developing new ideas to keep ahead of the competition. So, the more creative you are in finding ways to connect donors emotionally to your cause, the more successful your fundraising will be.

Storytelling, good use of language, images and film work fine, but is fine good enough? If you can get your donors to experience your cause in a physical way it will be even more powerful.

‘It’s never enough just to tell people about some new idea. Rather, you have to get them to experience it in a way that evokes power and possibility. Instead of pouring knowledge into people’s heads, you need to help them grind a new set of eyeglasses so they can see the world in a new way.’

John Seely Brown, Seeing Differently: Insights on Innovation (Harvard Business Review, USA, 1997).

You have to help people have an experience. There are many ways to do this. Below are some of examples to get you thinking.

Masaru Ibuka, Sony’s then honorary chairman liked carrying his bulky cassette player with him when he travelled. It was rather cumbersome so he instructed Sony engineers to make it smaller. At that time portable cassette players were predominately used by journalists to record interviews, no one understood why anyone would want a cassette player that played and didn’t record. When the Sony Walkman was launched in 1978, Sony employed actors to walk, cycle and, apparently, skateboard around Tokyo demonstrating the use of the Walkman in action. Journalists were taken to a park where they, on their very own Walkmans, could experience the quality sound and see other people using the device. They felt it. It was made real for them. The rest is history.

Chip and Dan Heath tell a compelling story in their latest book, Switch (Random House Inc, USA, 2011), Chip and Dan Heath tell a compelling story of a manufacturer wasting sums of money due to poor purchasing. An employee, desperate to make management understand the waste, hired a summer intern to investigate just one product and the prices that were paid for it. The intern gathered data on the prices paid for standard gloves that were used in all the factories. The result was 424 different gloves and where there were like for like gloves, the cost of these ranged from $5 to $17. At the next board meeting the 424 pairs of gloves were placed on the boardroom table with price tags on. The board members understood. It made the waste real for them in a way that a PowerPoint slide or a spreadsheet would not have done.

During World Water Week UNICEF in New York sold dirty water in dirty water vending machines. No one wanted to drink the dirty water but many made a donation. Watch the clip here
to see some emotional responses. Every day, 4,100 children die of water-related diseases. Being asked to buy the dirty water that kills so many made it real for the passers-by.

Plan International pioneered child sponsorship 70 years ago and it remains a key part of their fundraising today. As a child sponsor with them and other sponsorship agencies, such as ActionAid, you can go and visit your child in his or her community and see the difference your donation has made. Sponsors can record and write about their experience. You can learn about The Bramelds trip to Ghana here. It certainly made it real for Lynne and Paul Brameld. It also helps make it real for other child sponsors like them.

Guide Dogs for the Blind hold a blindfold walk where participants are sponsored to walk blindfolded, with the help of a guide dog. I think there is so much more potential for this concept. It helps people understand the crucial role of a guide dog. It makes it real.

Hunger affects a billion people worldwide. WeFeedback asks you to think of your favourite meal and donate that value to help feed others. For example, steak and chips is calculated at $23 that, the steak and chip eater is informed, can feed 92 children. It makes it real.

Unseen tours are walking tours led by homeless guides. They offer a historical yet hitherto unexplored perspective of London, as perceived through the lens of homelessness. The tours include the guides’ own stories and experiences.

Making it real is about helping your donors physically experience your cause. It involves thinking just that bit harder about how to connect your donor emotionally. Whether you make a prototype, or gather real evidence, or play out the real situation, or compare daily lives of your donors and beneficiaries, the more you can do to make it real and emotional, the more connected your donors will be. In a competitive marketplace spending time making it real will make your donors more committed and your fundraising more successful.

If you liked making it real you may also be interested in:

Art of Woo, G Richard Shell and Mario Moussa (Capstone Publishing, UK, 2008).

Enchantment, Guy Kawasaki (The Penguin Group, UK, 2011).

Switch, Chip and Dan Heath (Random House Inc, USA, 2011).

The Social Animal, David Brooks (Random House Inc, USA, 2011).

1 comment:

  1. This is a terrific post, not just about storytelling, but about the importance of keeping stories vivid. Prospective donors don't need to be entertained, and they certainly don't need to be manipulated. However, vivid stories can help folks better understand the cause. Thanks for the post!