INSPIRE. Part 2 – What to say to supporters – even now. Three more tactics

The most successful major donor, corporate and trust fundraisers I’ve been interviewing over the last three months have been putting disproportionate effort into having more real (virtual or phone) conversations with their supporters.

But what should you do and say during these calls to make the most likely to succeed?

As always, the first thing to do, when in either a virtual or face to face conversation, is to care about and listen to the other person – we need to listen more and talk less – and the second thing is, when it is your turn to say something, talk more about your beneficiaries and less about your charity.

But assuming that you understand these two crucial distinctions, what else can you do when it’s your turn to talk?

Five to Thrive

Here are five specific things to be able to say that will help your supporters be interested and care, which is an abbreviated version of The Magic Formula that I teach on our Mastery Programmes and in the Bright Spot Members Club.

  • Be able to point out what’s not immediately obvious (about the beneficiaries’ problem, especially now).
  • Be able to explain how your charity is responding to help your beneficiaries now, even if you don’t know this in detail.
  • Be able to share real examples.
  • Find some ways to show impact, even if they’re not perfect.
  • Be able to mention the support you’re receiving from other wonderful supporters like them.

To read in more depth about how to do the first of these two ideas in practice, check out Part 1 of this blog.

In this, Part 2, I am going to explore the third, fourth and fifth of these ideas.

Be able to proactively bring it to life with real examples.

One of the best ways to defeat the curse of knowledge and help your supporter connect, is to include real examples to bring the first two question topics to life.

Though many fundraisers are aware of this in principle, I’ve found relatively few overcome the challenges to actually find the examples, so they can do it in practice. But when you make time for stories, we’ve found it has an amazing impact on your results.

For instance, Max Newton, who is now Head of Community Fundraising at Shelter and was previously at the British Red Cross, told me his teams achieved fabulous results – a doubling of income compared to other teams – when they got really focused on finding and proactively including more real examples to inspire their supporters.

These results are backed up by research carried out at Carnegie Mellon University and described in the excellent book, Made to Stick. In the ‘Rokia experiment’, subjects heard one of two messages about the work of Save the Children. Version 1 was big picture, factual information about the large numbers of a population that were at risk of starvation due to famine.

Version 2 was a real example about a little girl who was starving.

Version 2, the real example, raised twice as much money (average gift of $2.38) compared to version 1, the factual explanation of the problem, where the average gift was $1.14.

A key challenge for you now

One key challenge for fundraisers right now is where to find real examples, especially when your colleagues delivering your services are probably busier than ever at the moment.

Actually, even before the pandemic, I appreciate that getting hold of real examples was probably not easy. Some colleagues do not understand just what a disproportionate difference having concrete examples makes.

At its simplest, as we advise in our podcast, find a way to talk to someone who works with those who need your help. I know they’re really busy, so it may not be easy, but it’s also true that some charities are now finding a greater unity of purpose, a breaking down of old barriers, as different teams find ways to help each other out.

I’ve recently heard various great examples of charities finding a way to solve this. For instance, Davinia Batley, Director of Fundraising and Engagement at the charity Become, shared with fellow members in our Bright Spot Club how her colleagues have been brilliant in working with her to find a pragmatic solution.

There are only three people in the front-line team, and they’ve been flat out supporting care-experienced children and young people. But they’ve still managed to schedule a weekly catch up meeting with Davinia. But because they’re all so hard pressed, they’ve decided to rotate which person joins the call to share that content, so that each front-line colleague only attends for 30 minutes every three weeks.

Find some ways to show impact, even if they’re not perfect.

In The Fundraiser Who Wanted More, I demonstrate that while most charities talk in detail about what they do, your donors are usually more inspired to give if you instead focus on helping them see the difference you’re charity is able to make.

Right now, in the literal sense, this can be hard to do. Getting information, including measurement, from the front line is hard during the crisis.

One tactic you can still use though, is to share real examples of people / animals you’re helping now, as we’ve just explored.

And if you can’t share recent examples, the other option is make use of stories and numerical impact measures from before the crisis.

My family and I watched some of the excellent Big Night In fundraising evening from Comic Relief and Children in Need. It was immensely powerful, and was very successful in fundraising terms. I noticed that the short films (at least, while I was watching) used to show who it would help, showed stories from a different era, a time before the pandemic.

After seeing one, I felt inspired, desperate to help, and I got out my phone and donated. Note, my brain did not say, ‘hang on a minute, this is what those two boys were struggling with before the pandemic. It’s not an up to date representation of the charities strategy so I will not give’. I felt inspired to give now to enable a charity to help solve these kinds of problem.

What great content that shows the effectiveness of your charity could you be using, even if it predates the pandemic?

Be able to tell them about heroes like themselves.

In the classic book, Influence, Professor Robert Cialdini, describes 6 principles of influence. In the Bright Spot Club I explore the implications of most of them for fundraisers, but to keep things manageable here I want to just focus on one that is much more powerful than most people realise.

As our ancestors evolved during more dangerous, food-scarce times, they became hard-wired to pay attention to what other people think and do. Fitting in, acting consistently with the rest of a tribe we care about, was literally a matter of life and death, and so this same instinct is now hard-wired. As such, it remains a surprisingly powerful factor in how we behave now. One study by Cialdini found that if someone ahead of you puts money in a busker’s hat, you are statistically 8 times more likely to also give than if you had not seen that happen.

More recently, there are clearly many wonderful reasons why Captain Tom Moore has raised such astonishing amounts of money for NHS charities. I was also curious about why so many people gave to him, not to another hero doing their best for the same cause.

I believe a key factor is the extraordinary power of social proof. The more the media broadcast the inspiring story of how one brave 99-year-old veteran had raised £100,000 (or £1million; or £10 million…) the more other people got caught up in how amazing those numbers were. Clearly, they were inspired by his amazing story as well, but the numbers were also intriguing and exciting, and we wanted to be part of that tribe. This effect is the glorious opposite of ‘bystander apathy’ where people fail to act because they see others not helping a stranger in trouble.

How can you use this to reduce the fundraising equivalent of ‘bystander apathy’? When you talk to supporters, don’t let them assume they would be unusual if they helped. Be able to proactively mention some of the other wonderful, generous donations, people you’ve been talking to (in a similar ‘tribe’ to your supporter) who are also generously helping.

Note, this cannot make someone care about your cause if they did not do so before. But it can help them feel reassured that they are part of a like-minded tribe that cares about this important issue.

To make future conversations with supporters more inspiring, can you find content in these three areas?

It may be easier to brainstorm this with a colleague or team.

  1. Be able to share real examples. Who would be best placed to help you solve this? Can you create or improve a story bank? Even just dedicating a notebook to capturing great content makes a huge difference.
  2. Find some ways to show impact, even if they’re not perfect. There are many ways to measure impact, but be sure to answer the question ‘is this service effective?’ rather than ‘how much activity are we doing?’
  3. Be able to mention the support you’re receiving from other wonderful supporters like them. Be on the look out for great, generous examples, and test what happens when you mention them.

Want lots more ideas? Download my new e-book for FREE

Power Through The Pandemic

Seven ways to raise funds with major donors, corporate partners and trusts, even now.

In this new e-book, I explore dozens of tactics that have been working to raise high value income for charities, from a range of causes, even now. You can download it for free here: