Need to inspire a supporter? Three ways to WOW them!

If you’re fed up with donors not responding when you try to get in touch, and if some of the prospects you meet just don’t seem to grasp how powerful your cause is, the strategic ‘peak moments’ approach is worth looking at.

The WOW approach to solving fundraising challenges is one of our favourite tactics at the Bright Spot team, probably because it is not only astonishingly effective in a busy competitive marketplace, but also because most people say it makes their job more fun and interesting.

Evolved from Rob’s blog on ‘breaking the script’ and building peak moments for your donors, and inspired by ‘The Power of Moments’  by Chip & Dan Heath, this tactic is about deliberately setting out to help people feel things rather than merely understand some information.

I’ve heard how a brave regional fundraiser used a prop to leave a room of 20 local business owners gobsmacked; I’ve seen a small charity blow away the competition to be shortlisted for their first ever corporate partnership; and I’ve watched a conference room of people moved by a demonstration that connected them to the cause, with not a virtual reality headset in sight.

There are lots of ways you can bring more WOW Your Donors creativity to your work, but to fit into a single blog, here are three principles to think about:

1. Made to make your mouth water – twist an every day activity

 When we worked with the Stroke Association recently, one member of the team explained how new volunteers are trained. Taking a pack of Opal Fruits (Starbursts for anyone born after 1990) they ask you to hold them in your weaker hand and using only that hand try to open the packet, then take one out and unwrap it. It’s one thing to read these words, and consider the idea intellectually, and quite another to actually experience the sensations when you do it.

Most people are taken back at how exhausting it is, for your mind as well as your hand.

There may be no equivalent activity for your cause, but it is well worth exploring this idea. In our experience, the person most likely to know of some activity that evokes your cause is either someone whose job it is train volunteers, or for instance helpline staff about the nature of the problems your beneficiaries face.

Or even better, some charities help children to understand an important issue, for example when someone in your family has a particular disease. If yours does, whose job is it to bring that to life in a clear and compelling way? There’s a good chance they’ve already (had to) find either an activity that elegantly evokes some element of that problem. Or perhaps they’ve just found there’s a metaphor which simply helps those children or volunteers understand this concept.

Could you adapt this way of communicating to your conversations or pitches with (potential) supporters?

2. Flower power – appreciate / compliment their world

 ‘If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.’ Mother Theresa

Apparently, roughly 4,400 families will have learned their child has cancer this year. While many charities make liberal use of the large numbers of people who suffer a particular problem, our experience is that in practice this does little to help your listener or reader actually take any action to support.

Another concept we teach on our Corporate Mastery Programme is the importance of finding ways to schedule an informal tea / coffee meeting with potential partners, rather than seeking partnerships / money from a distance. But getting these meetings is not always easy in practice, which is why we teach 5 powerful strategies for improving your results in this crucial area.

One wise fundraiser wanted to set up an informal meeting with one of her Dream 10 partners, a high end florist company, and liked the creativity and boldness of what we call the ‘WOW’ approach, which involves sending them something so surprising (yet relevant) that they can’t help but call you back.

She created 12 home-made replica red roses and sent them in a box, alongside a story about one family whose child had been diagnosed with cancer, and had been hugely helped by the services provided by the charity (and funded by supporters). Why did she send 12 roses instead of just one? Because 12 is the number of children diagnosed with cancer in the UK each day. Do you agree that twelve / day was much more meaningful than 4,400 per year? The flower company must have thought so – it helped set-up a conversation with them from scratch.

To be clear, we’ve found that talking about the scale of a problem is often not the best topic if you want to help someone really care, but when it is the right thing to do, how could you bring that number down to a level that is tangible? And how could you put it in terms that are meaningful to your supporter’s world?

3. Help them feel something – then they might see what you mean.

“Language is often abstract, but life is not abstract.” As Chip & Dan say in their first book Made to Stick. We tend to hold on to and remember what we can feel and visualise, rather than what is complicated and unknown.

That’s one reason the 12 red roses per day concept was effective. And its why experiencing the struggle to open Opal Fruits can give you that ‘aha’ feeling at a different level to just hearing the idea explained.

One attendee on our programme liked this concept so she sent her proposal to a well known wine maker rolled up inside a wine bottle, with a bespoke label printed around the bottle. Every other charities’ proposal arrived as a PDF by email and it’s no surprise that the fundraiser who took the risk was invited to pitch.

If you have attended one of our in-house Influencing Supporters Masterclasses, you will probably have been asked to look through some bubble wrap at the letter E. Within seconds of looking through folded bubble wrap the E disappears; when you fold the wrap again you can no longer distinguish colour, and finally, looking through three layers, you can’t even see light. In the space of 25 seconds it’s possible to experience a rough simulation of losing your eyesight, without any need for a virtual reality machine. It’s a powerful technique that Sightsavers has been using to help conversations with supporters for years.

The huge letter E we lose sight of, is the same E that’s on the top of an optician’s eye test chart. The biggest letter, the one most of us will always be able to see. Gone in seconds.

One thing that these four examples have in common is they’ve not leapt straight to talking about what their charity does / what they want, in their own language. Instead, they’ve tried hard to, as Rob explains in his book The Fundraiser Who Wanted More, to see the supporters’ point of view, their context. In the book he says:

‘If you want to influence someone, first seek to understand and appreciate their world.’ 

In these examples the fundraiser has either looked at the specific domain that the supporter / potential partner operates in (flowers / wine) or they’ve taken an every day experience that is likely to be familiar to most of us (unwrapping a sweet / looking through a clouded window), to keep rapport and make it easier to help people experience that ‘aha’ or WOW moment.

I appreciate that each one of these examples is probably different to the kind of partners / supporters you (want to) talk to, and also that if your cause is different to these ones, this approach may appear more difficult. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to literally copy these bright spots. Rather, I’ve tried to give you a sense that in our experience, gathering more insight and then being more brave and creative with how you build inspiring relationships with supporters, does tend to pay off.

To put these ideas into practice:

  1. HELP THE PENNY DROP – Is there an important concept to do with your cause / charity’s service which is often mis-understood? What ideas do you have for how you could bring it to life with some kind of informal demonstration? Crucially, if you don’t have any ideas, who could you talk to in your organization who is most likely to be able to share their techniques and metaphors?
  2. GET MORE CHATS WITH PARTNERS / SUPPORTERS – Think of a partner (or supporter or donor) who you’d love to set up an informal coffee meeting with. As you may know, at Bright Spot we teach lots of other powerful techniques to help you succeed in this area without needing to be creative, but for today, if you were to take this creative / WOW approach, what could you try?

If you found this blog helpful, please share it with your team or other people you think would benefit.

Written by Ben Swart and Rob Woods.