The term “table stakes” is slowly creeping its way into my head. Maybe it’s part of your vocabulary, it wasn’t in mine. One of our team talks about “table stakes.” It comes out of his corporate and start-up experience. It’s a poker and gambling term referencing the minimum of money you need to play at that table. As in, “you have to have $100 to play poker at this table.” That’s the table stakes. There are always basics and minimums in any project or endeavor.
Gambling’s not my thing but I do understand table stakes in fundraising.
Donor-focused fundraising is merely table stakes today.
A few short years ago, the concept of “donor-centric” fundraising or a “donor-focused” organization was groundbreaking for many nonprofits and ministries. The idea that you should communicate to a donor by concentrating on their dreams and desires was unique. In fairness, many organizations were trying to do it, but fewer were doing it in powerful, authentic ways. It’s depressingly easy and natural to only focus on what the organization wants to do. Often people were just slipping in a few more “you’s” in the copy to try to fool the donor. (Donors are never fooled for long).
Today, you can find donor-focused fundraising everywhere. When I review outside fundraising, at least 50% of the time it has many of the basic elements of good donor-focused work. The tide has changed and people are getting it.
Think about it, everyone who’s competing for your donor’s attention and interest is also focused on that same donor’s dreams and desires.
That’s why donor-focused language is just the table stakes. You can not count on donor-focused fundraising to carry you any longer in this hyper-competitive world. If you haven’t embraced donor-focused fundraising, it’s not too late. Start now.
So once donor-focused fundraising is clear, and it’s woven into the fabric of your organization. Now what?
To survive and thrive, you must create messages that percolate, stick and motivate.
Percolate. You can’t SHOUT your way into people’s consciousness. There was a time when frequency, urgency and ubiquity did the trick (think 1970’s television advertising). Those days are over. Today, consumers intuitively filter out boring, predictable or irrelevant messaging. Their brains don’t register it. Even if a sensory signal came down their neural pathway, their brain stopped it cold.
Donors see more fundraising and marketing than ever before. And through that experience, they get better and better at ignoring messages every day. Our culture, society and media consumption habits are training us to be experts at filtering out advertising and marketing messages.
There are those who’ll sell you the cheapest and blandest fundraising because, well, it’s cheap and easy. If you go that route, you’ll have bought yourself what is ultimately the most expensive fundraising available. Most expensive because you will have squandered opportunities to connect in a meaningful way. And you will have put yourself in the category of “boring” and “typical,” which is ultimately like sitting in the trash bin. You’re spending money to help make yourself more invisible to your donors. Not a great plan in my opinion.
What does it take to creat a donor-focused message that will percolate into a person’s awareness? It does take more than just making sure you get enough second person pronouns in your copy.
Here’s what we do for our clients. You can do your version for yourself.
You must have a Message Creation Strategy.
First begin with your Foundation. For Oneicity clients, message creation begins strangely enough with the ministry or organization we’re serving. What are the foundational, unique, core beliefs? What do they believe (the Simon Sinek “we believe”)? What is unique to their approach. Why do they do what they do the way they do it? Also what’s unique about their physical location, their community, their situation. These foundational elements are what the message is built on. These aren’t copy points. These are the underpinnings of the copy and are incorporated in our internal processes as our touch points for what we create. Ask yourself the questions. What’s unique about your work? How are you different than any other organization? What do you believe that impacts the “why” you do what you do?
The next step in this percolation thing is our “Message Scaffolding.” With the Foundation material in mind we design the impact. If you’ve read Donoricity, you’ve seen the scaffolding we use. This is the pivot from any organizational oriented thinking to donor focus. The scaffolding keeps the message donor focused and begins to add energy in terms to the donor relationship. If all 4 ingredients (problem, solution, participation, consequence) are present, we have a solid message. If you don’t know about scaffolding check out Donoricity or keep an eye here; we’ll soon offer a webinar or two to teach these strategies. See below if you’re interested.
And finally, the third step is “Leader Lensing.” Here’s where the message finally begins to take shape into something that can percolate. Unfortunately, I can’t teach you leader lensing in a blog post. I’m not unwilling, but it’s been cooking with me for about 4 years. We’ve been testing and experimenting with it for a couple of years, and we’re now rolling it out to all our clients. It’s a simple concept that requires practice to pull off. Until the next book comes out or you’re a client, what you need to think about for now is how your leader is revealed to the donor as authentic, interesting and fascinating in your copy. (By “leader” I mean the spokesperson or person who’s the voice of your organization). The unique personhood of your leader is your secret sauce. You have to be careful, and it takes a delicate hand. But you’ll find it powerful.
Does it work? Is it worth it? Don’t take my word for it. Here’s a real world example. I’m drafting this on Monday morning. This afternoon we’re reporting results to a client who’s way ahead of last year to date. The income lines that are strictly Oneicity lines are up 25% year-to-date. Overall, they are up even more. And we’re in our third year with this client so we’re going up against ourselves year over year. Regained lapsed donors and new donors are up. At this point we’re seeing the second-highest acquired donor value (we didn’t quite beat our numbers last year). Plus of those new donors, we’re seeing another record beating year for second gifts from those new donors. Your mileage will vary. But does it work? It. Works.
Will you decide to move past table stakes? I hope so. You need to.
Next time we’ll talk about what it takes to make this message stick with the donor.
What do you think? Questions? You know how to find me, I enjoy the conversations.
Oh and we’ve had enough conversations around this topic and requests for more information that we’re planning a 30-minute webinar to take you to the next step. If you’re interested you can give us your email address right here and we’ll let you know as we finalize the details. We’re going to keep them small so we have time for questions and problem solving.
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