Finding the treasure – three beliefs of very persuasive fundraisers

If your job includes talking to donors / supporters, there is a major problem which is likely to harm your ability to positively influence them. Assuming that you have a clear desire to first understand and appreciate the donor’s point of view, before you go into very much detail about your charity’s work, the second big barrier to successful influence is what Chip and Dan Heath call The Curse of Knowledge.

If we are not very careful, knowing what we know about the charity causes us to talk too much about our charity, wonderful and worthy thought it may seem to us, and not enough about those that it exists to help. It also causes our tone to be different from the way normal people would talk (eg charity’s often talk about ‘combatting social isolation’ rather than ‘helping people who are incredibly lonely’.

Based on interviews with dozens of high-achieving fundraisers over the last 16 years, I’m certain that the best way to overcome the effects of The Curse of Knowledge is to proactively include more real examples when you talk.

For example, when I interviewed Stu Thomson recently, he was clear that the turning point when his donor really committed to a massive donation was after hearing not one, but several tangible examples about the difference his small youth charity makes to young people. She decided to donate £100,000, a transformational amount for a charity this size. Or if you prefer to look at research, these two studies demonstrate how stories double fundraising results.

But still a major challenge for many fundraisers to emulate Stu’s results is the conviction that the charity where you work does not have enough examples or stories. ‘This stuff is easy for kids and cancer charities, but just doesn’t apply to our arts (or research…etc) charity’.

It is certainly true that the examples and stories are more easy to find in some charities than others. However, I don’t agree there is a charity on the planet for which you can’t find real examples… if you’re really committed to find them.

I’ll share tactics for solving some of these very real challenges in a moment. But first, if you don’t believe they are there, will you find them?

In 1985 Mel Fisher and his son Kane found a Spanish galleon containing $260 million in gold coins. The Nuestra Senora del Atocha had sunk in 1622 off the coast of Florida. The most interesting thing about this story is how long it took them to find it. Mel searched for this Spanish galleon for 16 years! I too like the idea of finding treasure, but if I hadn’t found anything in 6 months I probably would have packed it in. So to me, the key question is what would Mel and Kane have had to believe to keep searching for that treasure ship, year after year after year?

Treasure finding belief 1. ‘The gold exists, and can be found’

Treasure finding belief 2. ‘If I find the gold, it will be worth it’

Treasure finding belief 3. ‘I am going to find the gold’

In my opinion, the major reason some fundraisers are not as persuasive and confident when talking to donors as they’d like to be, is that they do not believe all three of the treasure / story hunter’s beliefs:

Story finding belief 1. ‘The real examples exist (even if they’re not on a plate for me right now)’

Story finding belief 2. ‘If I find them, they will really help my ability to positively influence donors’

Story finding belief 3. ‘I am going to find the stories’

The good news is it won’t take you 16 years to find real examples to help your fundraising. But you may need, for example, a broader definition of what kinds of examples to look for, and where to look for them, than exists in most charities.  You may also need to be more in tune with the psychology of your front-line colleagues who so far have not been as helpful as you’d have liked.

In the Magic Formula I describe in The Fundraiser Who Wanted More, there are two key kinds of story to find:

Story / Example Type 1. Help us connect to the problem. Note, many of the best examples of people / animals with this problem may be unknown to your organisation, but shining a light on their problem will nevertheless be very helpful if the donor is to understand and care. Usually a fifteen minute Google Challenge helps you find several specific examples that journalists have already published.

Story / Example Type 2. Help us believe your solution works. Note, your colleagues may not yet understand what you’re looking for; why it’s so important; and how you’re going to use them (eg anonymised)… but any extra effort you put into building rapport with them and discussing these ideas, can only help you find at least some story treasure.

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If you’d like to find out more about making stories work in fundraising, the Influencing Donors Masterclass is just one of the modules on the Major Gifts Mastery Programme and Corporate Mastery Programme.