In the US and UK we are drum-beaters for international charity, non-profits, pro-social and all the other names for that part of society that picks up the pieces of humanity and the environment that have been crushed by business and government, and which are attempting hopefully to build a better society the world over.
I have noticed, however, that the key factor in building institutions in other countries, which are capable of making real change in both people’s lives and in their societies, is helping them develop sound fundraising programmes. The ‘however’ is there because though we teach technique after technique at workshops and conferences around the world, the heart of the matter is often forgotten.
A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a colleague about the fundraising programme we had built at Amnesty International in the UK some years back. She was saying that it was such a tightly run machine with so many techniques up and running at the same time that it was no wonder we were steadily overtaking the income of Amnesty in the US. But she had forgotten that the techniques were only half the story, and this is where the Easter Bunny appears.
People learn techniques, apply them at home, even adapt them skilfully to their culture and then expect the Easter Bunny to just hop up and reward them, and when it doesn’t happen and their institutions fail to grow they become disillusioned or simply lose their jobs.
The half we miss is just how to put over the real reasons why donations are needed with the appropriate movingly emotional content at the right time, complete with convincing intellectual rigour. Yes, we have begun to talk about telling the stories of our beneficiaries, which is a huge step forward, but every word counts throughout every technique and the environment in which the technique is launched also matters as does the timing.
So, if we take something like the Amnesty full page ads in the 90s (see www.sofii.org), that counter-intuitively raised massively more than their spend, the long text is an education in copywriting (of course not the only one you will need) and the timing ran as close as possible to TV coverage of the issue, as did all the other techniques.
We make our decisions to give in our hearts, but justify them with our intellect. So the first requirement is the way we talk to potential donors and that must also come from our hearts too, and if we don’t think through how every word we use comes across, and we cease to write like real people with authentic responses, the Easter Bunny will have his revenge.
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