April 10, 2017 Doug Shaw

The importance of donor-focused communication

Quite frankly, I’m disappointed in myself that I haven’t spoken to this rule before now. It’s such a critical rule that I should have included it in my first book, The Rules of Fundraising.

I think the year was 1991. If you were alive and old enough to remember, you might have heard:

  • George H.W. Bush was President of the United States.
  • Brian Mulroney was the Prime Minister of Canada.
  • Boris Yeltsin was the first freely elected President of Russia.
  • The Soviet Union ceased to exist after the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • Kuwait was invaded by the Iraqi forces of Saddam Hussein.
  • Allies launched Operation Desert Storm to repel Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
  • Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested as a serial killer.
  • Rodney King was beaten, on camera, in California.
  • The Internet was made available for unrestricted commercial use.
  • 1 million computers were using the Internet.
  • Microsoft released MS DOS 5.0.
  • Several memorable movies were released, e.g., Thelma Louise, Silence of the Lambs, and Father of the Bride.
  • Doug Shaw began employing the use of Donor-Focused Strategic MarketingTM on behalf of ministries.

Well…you probably didn’t hear about this last one. But this was about the time when I first came to realize that donors would respond at a higher level when their direct mail letters began to speak TO them rather than ABOUT the ministry appealing to them.

What do I mean by this?

Imagine yourself going out to dinner with someone who spends the ENTIRE evening talking about herself. What’s the likelihood that you will want to do this again anytime soon?

As one who has worked inside a ministry, I know the feeling of commitment it takes to live inside of a ministry community; I’ve experienced the passion for the mission of the organization and the deep desire to change and save lives. Of course, all of this requires funding in order to sustain and grow the organization.

I, too, gave into the temptation to tell as many people as possible ABOUT our ministry. I wanted EVERYONE to get involved. Little did I realize that I was behaving like that annoying TV commercial that gets played over and over while you’re trying to watch your favorite program. The feeling comes close to hearing fingers scratching on a chalkboard (these are old slate boards attached to the walls where liquid writing surfaces or digital screens now hang).

But the good news is there is a way to cut through all the noise and involve donors and prospective donors in the ministry you serve.

Over time I began to identify two kinds of fundraising communication:

  1. Institutionally focused communication and
  2. Donor-focused communication

Institutionally focused communication places the emphasis on what YOUR MINISTRY is doing, e.g.:

This year The Heavenly Network has provided over 100,000 listeners on 900 stations with life-changing books and digital recordings, 1,000 people have made personal professions of faith, and tens of thousands have expressed how their lives have been changed through our broadcasts. Providing live streaming of our programs online has broadened The Heavenly Network’s reach to over 50,000,000 people.

Donor-focused communication places the emphasis on what God is doing through your donors, e.g.:

This year, the Lord has used your generous gifts to enable The Heavenly Network to provide over 100,000 life-changing books and digital recordings to our listeners!

In addition, through your giving, praying and volunteering, we now air our programs on 900 stations! The Lord has used your gifts to lead 1,000 women and men to make personal professions of faith in Him, and tens of thousands have expressed how their lives have been changed through broadcasts you’ve made possible. Because you care and give, we are now able to provide live streaming of all of our broadcasts to a listening audience of over 50,000,000 people.

You can see how the first approach doesn’t involve the donor, while the second not only involves the donor but is more theologically correct in that it gives the glory to God as He works through those who support this broadcast ministry.

By employing the donor-focused approach to EVERY communication sent to donors and prospects, I’ve come to see much higher levels of engagement and response. You can do this too! A simple way to begin this approach is to write the way you are used to writing, and then sit back and ask yourself the question, “Now how can I write the donor into this communication?”

This is why Rule #48: Talk to your donors, not about yourself exists, to help generate greater levels of involvement from the donors who believe in your ministry. Happy writing!

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