Don't Make Me Work

Photo by Victor1558
06.18.2012By

Photo by Victor1558

Guest post by Sohini Baliga.

It’s no wonder that you see so many posts and discussions devoted to fundraising and development. Both are the lifeblood of NPOs, the majority of which do not have a celebvocate and/or Warren Buffet on the board. And yet, I find myself writing up this post to point out, and remind myself, of commonsense basics. Why? Because it’s very easy for us at NPOs to get wrapped up in our story and so lost in the weeds, that we risk forgetting what’s most important to share with our community.

More than once, I’ve watched as crack development and communications staff have told a great story that somehow falls short of offering good, immediate, or actionable reason for the public to actually give or get involved. Worse, I’ve seen organizations inadvertently overwhelm their audience and drive them away. The basic that frequently gets lost in the mix seems to be, “never make your audience work.”

So be it ever so humble, here are things to keep in mind as you plan fundraising and development strategy.

Edit your content!

Chances are you have way too much to say. It’s one of the biggest stumbling blocks and challenges for NPOs because there’s always a lot to tell, and we want so much to tell our community the full impact of where their dollars go. But we risk drowning them in details that they don’t always want to know about . . . yet. (More about that in a bit.)

My favorite example of how not to do this was–I kid you not–the 12-page, double-sided, triple-folded letter I got from a major advocacy group some years back. My first thought was, “If you have the money to kill that many trees and use up that much postage, you sure don’t need my money right now!”

Think long term.

About that “yet” I just mentioned . . . There isn’t a solution that’s going to work for everyone, but it’s good to remember that if you can bottle down what you do to a few well-chosen words, you have just created the opportunity to have a fuller, longer conversation with the person you’re trying to reach and build a relationship with in a very noisy world.

And that’s where the real strength of your fundraising and development efforts lie, over the long term, so that people have the opportunity to donate, engage, and be fed by your NPO more than once. I should stress that you should always be prepared to tell your full story: where the dollars go, what the full impact of your donor’s contributions are, why it’s so necessary for them to support you. It’s not just a legal transparency issue, it’s a trust issue. But there’s such a thing as timing and telling your story in a way that grabs the donor’s attention but doesn’t overwhelm them or try their patience.

Take the puzzle apart. Ruthlessly.

As I once told a colleague who struggled to explain a project, “Explain it to me in ten words or less. And if you think that’s hard, remember, I know the backstory, and I’m on your side.” This is where your “no” people, opposition research, or an outsider comes in handy. Have them read what you have to say–whether it’s a website, email marketing, or direct mail–and let them hack and slash, or rearrange the content as necessary. Just remember, you need that perspective, and you can’t get mad at them when they decide your favorite story is less plot point and more run-on sentence.

One click.

Make your call to action clear, simple, and fast. And in a perfect world, no more than one click. As I once told a friend while I was feeling generous but particularly hard-nosed, “Remember, you want my money. So does everyone else. Make it easy for me to give it to you.” That leads to the next crucial point.

Don’t put up barriers.

I once came across a site that did the impossible. It got me to click on an ad in the Facebook feed. And then it promptly threw up a window–with no option to “x” out or skip the stupid pop-up. Anywhere! What on earth was that company thinking?! By the way, I checked to see if it was just something through the Facebook ad, but no, going through the homepage through a completely different computer also required me share my info just to browse! Unsurprisingly, I’ve never gone back and am now just incredibly annoyed when I see the company’s ad perennially populating my Facebook feed. Never put up barriers to engagement.

Too many bells and whistles.

Since I’m on a tear, this would be the corollary to the last point, and a personal appeal to all the restaurants out there who seem stuck with flash. Just because the fancy technology exists doesn’t mean you have to use it. People don’t care about the technology’s “amazingness.” They just want it to work. To that end, dear restaurants, music/video autoplay = instant stupid points. /endrant

So what’s the solution? Great, concise, compelling writing. A subject for a whole other post.