by Richard Perry
“I can’t seem to get my donor to relate to what we are trying to do,” explained the frustrated major gift officer. “I tell them over and over again about all the people we are helping and all the people that need help, and it just doesn’t seem to click. It’s like the donor has a glaze over her eyes!”
And that commentary sums up one of the biggest errors made in major gift fundraising and fundraising in general. The error is communicating a societal problem using macro/mass language vs. boiling it down to one person, one animal or one forest.
Paul Slovic, of the University of Oregon published his research findings on why people find it difficult to think about helping many vs. one. “… a million people in need speaks to our head, not our heart,” Slovic says. “As the numbers grow, we sort of lose the emotional connection to the people who are in need.”
He goes on to say: “What motivates us to help others whose lives are endangered? More specifically, what motivates us to help in certain situations, while in others we turn away? The answer to this question depends on the extent to which we value potential or actual losses of lives. Normatively, the scope or magnitude of a disaster or crisis should be the main carrier of value and motivation to act. But, descriptively, our actions are sometimes insensitive to, or even demotivated by, increasing numbers of people at risk (Slovic, 2007). For example, a single identified victim often evokes stronger feelings and greater willingness to help than an unidentified single victim or a group of victims, identified or not.”
These findings support the best practice in fundraising copywriting and major gift presentations that you must tell a story of one person-one situation in order to illustrate the need. This is why Jeff and I place so much emphasis on gathering stories-stories that illustrate the need through the life of one person or the condition of one animal or the state of one lake.
This kind of story telling helps the reader/major donor relate, empathize and connect.
This practice is essential on the front end of fundraising in order to describe the need and ask the donor to solve a problem. It is also very important on the back end of fundraising when you tell the donor she solved a problem and that her gift made a difference.
Keep this in mind as you craft your proposals, presentations and meetings in the coming days and weeks AND as you create your thank you and reporting back communication. It will help your donor relate to what you want them to do. It will help your donor connect their passion and interest to the need your organization is addressing. And it will help you donor know that her giving has made a difference.