Episode 80: Inspire your supporters like Rose on Strictly, with Rob Woods

Episode Notes

In Programme 8 of the current series of Strictly Come Dancing, Rose Ayling-Ellis, the programme’s first deaf contestant, did something very powerful. Midway through the routine, the music fell silent… and Rose and Giovanni continued dancing as though along to the music.

In this beautiful moment, Rose gave her audience an insight into what she experiences when she dances.

In this episode Rob explores ways charities can create their own powerful ‘aha’ moments. When you meet donors and potential partners, or when you organise events, how can you (appropriately) create these moments?

To give you some ideas, Rob shares examples of three different charities doing this successfully, as well as some fascinating research into how story-telling enhances results.

If you’d like to get in touch or share this episode with other charities, THANK YOU VERY MUCH! You can find Rob on Linked In or on twitter I am @woods_rob.

Further Resources

Want to go deeper and get 24/7 access to LOTS more inspiring training content?

Our training and inspiration club for fundraisers, the Bright Spot Members Club, has an extensive library of Rob’s best training films, a supportive community, and access to live masterclasses and problem-solving sessions with Rob and other experienced fundraising / leadership trainers EVERY WEEK. To find out more about how to get access to all these resources, go to www.brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join/

Would you like training, inspiration and support to increase fundraising income? You can find out more about our flagship 6 month programmes: the Major Gifts Mastery Programme; the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme or the Individual Giving Mastery Programme by following these links.


‘In WOW Your Donors, we recommend that to improve your supporters’ experience, don’t try to be amazing all the time – you’ll get exhausted and won’t sustain it. Instead, decide on a couple of key moments to WOW them, and really go the extra mile to thank them or help them feel connected to the difference they’re making.’

Rob Woods

Full transcript of Episode 80

Rob Woods:

Hey there brave fundraisers and welcome to Episode 80 of the Fundraising Bright Spot’s podcast. My name is Rob Woods, and this is the show for anyone who works in fundraising and you want some ideas, some tips, some encouragement to help you raise more money and enjoy your job, especially during the pandemic. And in today’s episode, I wanted to share some ideas and some examples to do with an approach to communication, which is bolder and more creative than I think most charities do most of the time.

And precisely because of that, if you get it right, I think it brings massive rewards in the way your donors feel about your cause and the experience they have when they talk to you or they come to your events. And in turn, that deepened understanding and even motivation, I think, leads to increased income for your charity. And these ideas are inspired by something completely brilliant that I saw on the program Strictly.

And if you’re listening in the UK, you are probably highly aware of Strictly Come Dancing, which is a very long running entertainment program on a Saturday evening, watched by millions and millions of people where celebrities dance with professionals and is a competition to see who gets through to the final and dances best. If you’re listening away from the UK, I imagine there might be similar programs in your country, but anyway, I hope you get the gist of what kind of an entertainment program this is. Anyway, people in the UK probably are wholly aware of something really cool that happened on the program last time.

So this was in week eight of series nineteen of the show called strictly on the BBC. And there’s a brilliant dancer on the current series called Rose Ayling-Ellis. She’s one of the celebrities, but she dances really well. She works really hard, but in addition to these things, she happens to be the first person in the history of that program who is also deaf. And what Rose did was in advance of her dance on Saturday night, she mentioned that she was going to do something special, something surprising in the middle of her dance.

And that moment would be dedicated to the deaf community. So what then happened was as she and Giovanni were doing their dance to a song called Symphony by Clean Bandit, in the middle of the song, the music stopped. It went silent and Rose and Giovanni continued to dance beautifully as if along to the music. And then some seconds later, the music kicked back in. And anyway, the whole dance, I’m not an expert in dancing, but as far as I could tell, the whole dance was really great.

But what was clear to me was that the judges and the audience, we found it especially moving, this special surprise that was within the dance. My family found it moving. From looking at Twitter, it seems that many, many, many other people found this moment beautiful and moving. The judges, some of them had tears in their eyes. Anton, who I think has been on the, with the program for 17 years, he said it was the greatest moment he ever witnessed in the history of Strictly.

And you might think that’s hyperbole, but what is undoubted is that Rose taking a risk in this way caused most of us who watched it to feel somewhat differently because of that brave move she made. And if I could put into words what I think it was that caused us to be moved by Rose’s dance is that in that moment, she gave us a tiny glimpse of something of what it could be like to be her dancing and doing a dance show when you can’t hear the music. And the reason I was so keen to make an episode for the podcast on this and to write a blog on this is that although the way Rose and Giovanni created this moment really was beautifully done.

I would suggest you don’t need to be a star on Strictly to apply the same idea, the same concept, the same approach to communication in your job. I suggest as a fundraiser for many types of cause it is possible to create more, what I would call aha moments, penny drop moments, where because of the way you communicate, you can enable people who care about your cause, your supporters to feel and understand something deeper than for instance, before they talked to you or before they came to your event.

In fact, I’ve been in various courses and mastery programs, I’ve delivered for fundraisers for many years. This is one of the things I’ve been quite interested in. And I’ve found that there are tactics that you can quite deliberately learn and practice in your charity that can cause your supporters to get these moments and feel something different and something deeper.

And in terms of the theory, my colleague, Craig Linton and I, one of our favorite books is called the Power of Moments. It’s by Chip and Dan Heath. I highly recommend it. It’s not a fundraising book, but it’s a, just a brilliant, fascinating approach to understanding ways you can improve relationships on behalf of a company, on behalf of a charity, in your personal life. And the central idea of the Power of Moments is that you can see ongoing relationship in terms of a series of moments, not because you need to be unbelievably awesome all the time.

That’s, for most of us unrealistic and exhausting. Just do your best most of the time. But what Chip and Dan Heath suggest is if you quite deliberately think of just a few moments in your relationship with your customers or your donors or your family, and quite deliberately try to go the extra mile and do something really special to help them or communicate with them differently, help them experience more joy for instance, if you as target few moments, then interestingly, that can have a disproportionate effect on them and their life and their relationship with you as well.

And I suggest that the dancer I’m talking about, is consistent with this theory of seeing ongoing communication in terms of a series of moments. Because even though Rose and Giovanni were only dancing to silence for relatively few seconds, I suggest it had a massive and disproportionate effect that how hard they worked to design this moment had a disproportionate effect on how we felt and therefore our experience and how moved we were by the dance overall. And therefore, maybe how we feel about them and maybe how we feel about a cause they represent.

I gather that already, even before this particular dance, the number of people in the UK who have inquired about learning British sign language has gone up dramatically since Rose has been on the program. So what I suggest is that Rose and Giovanni created a special and beautiful moment. They executed it really well. And as a result, they caused us to feel something different in our understanding of a particular issue.

And in the Power of Moments, the Heath brothers describe lots of different inspiring examples of how various people have applied this approach and improved relationships as a result. And one of the most useful things in the book is a framework of four particular characteristics that these moments tend to have in common. And any given moment is using one or two at least of these characteristics. And one of them that categorizes these special moments is moments that give you extra insight, what you might call an aha moment, a penny drop moment.

And one of my favorite examples we often share when we do courses on this, and in fact, sometimes it’s shared by colleague Ben. He was once at a conference and a brilliant fundraiser from a sight loss charity that had been experiencing fabulous growth in their community fundraising. At a conference for fundraisers, she shared this technique. And what she did was she gave everyone in the audience a piece of bubble wrap. And they were in pairs and they, the pair was also given a large letter E printed out on a piece of paper.

And one person held up the letter E I guess, a couple of feet away from the other person who was asked to look through the bubble wrap at the letter. And then they were asked to tell their partner what they could make out through the bubble wrap. And initially they could see broadly the letter E but it was a bit fuzzy. And then they were asked to fold the bubble wrap in two. And again, they gave feedback on what they could now see. And a lot of the distinctions had gone, but they could still make out light from dark and so on.

And then they were asked to fold the bubble wrap one last time. And again, to look through the bubble wrap and sort of describe what they could and couldn’t see. And then she said, “This is not the same as clearly, but at some level it offers a glimpse, some small insight into what can happen in your gradual reduction in perception, if cataracts are developing over a period of weeks or months.” And in certain countries where my charity goes to carry out operations for literally $6, we are able to do an operation on a person who’s experienced that gradual reduction in sight loss.

And the next day they’re able to see again. And at that moment, please remove the bubble wrap. And when, I may not have done full justice to the way it was originally explained because I’ve never worked for that charity. But she got really good at explaining that in a way that was not patronizing, that took her audience with her and helped them, not just intellectually understand, but to actually also experientially get a sense of the amazing, well, the tough problem, but also the amazing difference her charity made. So we love that example.

We’re not saying it’s appropriate for every sight loss charity even, or for every situation you might be in with a donor. Clearly it’s not really possible to do that for a mass audience of individual givers. But for a certain kind of charity, which does meet donors face to face, be they corporates, community fundraisers, major donors, or if they’re able to come to an event with you. That kind of activity done right, can add up.

We think to a bigger difference than if you try to explain things with words alone. Hi, it’s Rob. And I just wanted to jump in really quickly to let you know about our Bright Spot members club, which is our training club for fundraisers and where you can learn about ways to implement this tactic and many, many more through our range of learning bundles and our weekly workshops. To give you a sense of it, here’s what one member, Audrey, said about why she’s been a member of the club for the last four years.

Audrey, a long standing member of Bright Spot Members Club

I think it’s incredible value for money because you get access to so many resources and you just have to be disciplined to access them. It’s all very well them being there, but you need to read them or listen to them and go to the events. But if you do that, there’s no doubt about it, you’d benefit from it. A one day conference is all very well, but actually having something that you can drip feed through the year, you can dip in and out of it, just keeps your skills up.

And it’s things that you can talk to colleagues about. I’ve got a colleague that I met on one of your courses and we meet up on Zoom every six weeks. And we check in with each other about how things are going for us. And I never would’ve had that otherwise. So yeah, I would highly recommend it. It’s a no brainer to me. It’s such good value for money. And I just recommend it to everybody.

Rob Woods:

For now though, back to the episode, as I share two more examples of charities that have created moments of insight for their supporters.

My colleague Ben was describing that tactic among others on a course, we ran a few years ago. And he was doing that for a brilliant charity that helped survivors of stroke. And they really liked the idea and were keen to go away and explore what their equivalent could be and what they came up with that subsequently worked really very effectively, especially for instance, at business net working meetings and other corporate and community scenarios is they would ask the audience or the individual potential supporter to pick up a Starburst sweet or in our days, it would’ve been called an Opal fruit.

But what one of those chewy sweet, that’s tightly wrapped. To pick one up with your non-preferred hand and to do your best to unwrap it, just using your non-preferred hand. And if that sounds mildly difficult, just if you are imagining it, believe me, I’ve tried it several times. When you’re actually trying to do it, it’s kind of, it takes you back a bit just how annoyingly difficult and frustrating it is to try and unstick the paper from the sticky sweet.

And that charity is able to explain that one of the many tough things, if you’ve already had a stroke is not the big frustrations, but sometimes one of the things that does your head in most is the, just how demoralizing it is that relatively simple thing that other people don’t think of that you used to take for granted, like dressing yourself or doing up a button or picking up a pen, for instance, relatively simple motor skills now are no longer possible for you or take enormous amounts of effort.

And therefore, you need to, either you can’t do them or you need to ask for help repeatedly, when before the stroke you had a complete agency and independence. And again, that charity found that it’s one thing to explain that, but if someone has experienced something not the same as, but it offers you a glimpse of that level of frustration that you don’t expect, the effect, if you explain it right, and again, in a non-patronizing way can be disproportionately moving and memorable and persuasive.

We’ve got several more examples of ways that charities have done this to great effect. One last one that springs to mind is of a again, a fabulous charity from a different kind of cause. It’s a charity that helps children who are born with a disfigurement, such as a cleft palate . And there are various reasons why those disfigurements can make your life more difficult apparently. And as you might imagine, one of them is stigma and taboo because of your appearance. But there’s another, perhaps in a way, even more urgent reason why these operations are actually life saving.

And to convey this, what this particular major donor fundraiser would do if she was in a meeting with a major donor and she already had some level of rapport. So she was able to sort of take a small risk in the way she brought to life what her cause was all about or the way she answered questions about the difference funding would make. What she sometimes would do would be to invite them to take a drink from their water glass, using a straw that she gave them. And they would take a drink and then experience some confusion as they were drinking because unbeknownst to them before she had given them the straw and before the meeting, she’d made lots of little pinprick holes in the straw.

And so what the donor experienced was trying to suck up water, expected water just to appear in your mouth, but discovering that weird jolt as it didn’t suck up because there was no vacuum and the holes caused the suction just not to work. What on earth is this about? Well, the way she explained it, if you’re born with a clef palate or that kind of facial disfigurement, in some countries, your life chances are much lower than other infants.

And the reason is you’re at greater risk of malnutrition. Because in order to feed from the breast, there needs to be a vacuum between the baby’s mouth and the mother’s breast. And if you’re born with a disfigurement that hampers that, it’s much harder to get the nourishment that you need. Now, I didn’t know that. And again, on my other courses, one of the key ideas we suggest you search for is things that are not obvious, especially things that are not obvious about the problem that actually might be obvious to everyone works in your charity, but the lay person is unaware of them.

Anyway, searching for those, knowing those, being able to explain them is a valuable skill anyway. But what the major donor fundraiser said was she found when she just described it, it was quite interesting. When she was able to in report elegantly enable the supporter to experience that jolt of not being able to drink when you thought you could, because of the stroke, she found doing it the experiential way tended to be more impactful than if she just described it in words.

In the same way I think that if Rose or anyone else had described the phenomenon of dancing when you can’t hear music was just chalk and cheese compared to the way she and Giovanni actually helped us feel differently about that experience. So if you are thinking, “Well, that’s all well and good Rob, but my charity, our cause is entirely different to sight loss or stroke or facial disfigurement and so on. That’s good for them, but it doesn’t do me much good.

There is no equivalent activity we could do with our major donors, corporate or community supporters or at our events.” I’d say you may be right. Maybe it’s unrealistic to believe that there are elegant, neat, practical, experiential little activities and demonstrations you can do for every charitable cause. And so, if that is true and nevertheless, you want to increase your ability to inspire people when you do meet them or they come to your events. Then my two bits of advice, I know they’re kind of obvious in a way.

But idea one is how hard are you and your colleagues currently working to find real examples? So people would call them stories. I tend not to call them case studies, but real examples that you can share verbally about the problems that your beneficiaries face and the difference that your charity makes to that group. I know this is such obvious stuff. It’s really hard to go to a conference and people not mention storytelling every other sentence. But I’ve also found it’s not the path of least resistance. It takes a real determination to decide we’re going to find real examples in spite of the many considerable challenges in how we do that and how we get it right, and do it in an appropriate way.

So it’s not easy for every kind of charity to do that. But it is on my courses and in my mastery programs and in my Bright Spot members club, this is absolutely day one, find ways to get more real examples and stories. And I’d say that’s far more important than now going into a brainstorm to do this, what I would consider more or slightly risky and more advanced stuff of finding the demonstrations. The stories is easier to implement, and you can make progress on it and solve most of the problems that come along just to sort of help inspire you that it’s worth the effort in addition to sort of common sense level that people tell stories tend to be more interesting and inspiring.

There are several studies that also back up this common sense reason why this will help you inspire people more and raise more money. One of the favorite examples I’ve I’ve got, which I’ve blogged about is a relatively famous experiment. I think it’s described in a book by Chip and Dan Heath again called Made to Stick. And it’s about some donors who were given $5 after a little activity they did. And they could either keep the $5 or they could give it to a good cause if they wanted.

And one set of donors was given a tiny bit of information that was all big picture, about the 3.4 million children in a certain country that were at risk of starvation. And another set of donors were, it was taught information about the same country, but they were given no big picture information. They were just given information about a particular individual, a nine year old girl called Rokia. And they could give the money to help children like Rokia if they wished. And that study had really compelling results. In the first on average, they did donate.

And on average, I believe it was $1,14. But by a long way, the people who were given the information about a specific individual example ended up donating on average, more than double the amount that the group had donated when they’d received the big picture information. So you listening to this, and if you already know my work, you’re aware of how strongly I feel about the power of examples and stories. But just in case your colleague needs something to back up this assertion, that’s one of the studies I sometimes describe.

So if in doubt and demonstrations, aren’t for you. My suggestion, and I talk about this in depth in my book called The Fundraiser Who Wanted More and in my members club, stories will definitely help. And again, not just for your websites, not just for proposals, but for anyone who’s giving a presentation, leading an event, or going to a meeting with a company, a rotary club or a major donor. For you to know real examples to share in conversation, that makes a massive difference. So there you have it. I hope you found some of my ideas about an approach to creating that aha moment, a moment of deeper understanding for your supporters.

I hope you find those ideas interesting. Doing this tactic in practice is not the easiest thing to do, both in terms of finding something appropriate that brings your course to life, and then the discipline of testing it and improving it and having the courage to actually use it in events or in meetings with donors. That’s not all easy. So that’s one reason. It’s one of the things that we teach for fundraisers who are in our Bright Spot members club. But if you are not a member and you’d like some extra tips and help in terms of the practicalities, I thought I would put out another episode on this same subject next week.

So it’s going to be episode 81. And in that one, I’m going to share various practical tips I’ve learned along the way to actually make it work in practice, including for instance, ideas to help you find and use props to bring to life your stories. Crucially ways to avoid these kinds of activities being felt to be a kind of a gimmick or a cheap stunt. There are solutions to that. And maybe most important of all, ideas is to help you go about finding what your equivalent activity might be. So that’s going to be episode 81.

In the meantime, if you’d like a couple more examples on this same subject of the experiential, then do check out episode 17, where I interview the brilliant Diagonal about how her charity got great results with this particular approach. If you want to check out some notes and the full transcript, as always, those are there on the podcast section of my website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

If you find this kind of content and these examples and advice helpful, then do subscribe to the fundraising Bright Spot’s podcast today, so that you never miss an episode. And if you’d like to go deeper, get more of this kind of help, this is one of many subjects that we teach in the Bright Spot members club. We’ve now got more than 320 fundraisers who are members of our training and inspiration club. And this topic, this wow your donors type concept is one of my favorite subjects that we help people to make progress on.

And if you want to find out more about that club and all the bundles and the weekly sessions we do for fundraisers through that club, then you can find out more at brightspotmembersclub.coat.uk/join. And just before I finish, I’d just like to say a big thank you to everyone who’s been spreading the word about this podcast, either on social media or with your colleagues to get this content out to help as many fundraisers and charities as possible during this difficult year.

So thank you. And if you want to share this episode or get in touch with me, you can fairly easily find me on LinkedIn and on Twitter. I am at woods_rob. So thank you so much for listening. For those of you who are watching strictly, I hope you enjoy the rest of the series. I’m going to be firmly rooting for Rose and Giovanni for the rest of this series. So we’ll see how that pans out, but I think they can go all the way. Thank you for listening. I hope it was helpful and I look forward to sharing another episode of the Fundraising Bright Spot’s show with you very soon.