It’s one thing to help your supporters and donors understand issues intellectually, but some fundraisers find creative ways to help people connect at a deeper level too.
On his courses and in the Bright Spot Members Club, Rob describes various ways you can create inspiring WOW moments. Within these, one type of special moment is where you help them gain deeper insight.
In this episode Rob explores ways charities can create experiential moments for their supporters and offers advice to help you do this in practice. He covers using props; how to prevent your bold idea feeling like a gimmick; and tips to help you find your equivalent to the successful examples he shares.
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‘A key phrase that stood out to me in the Power of Moments was BEWARE THE SOUL-SUCKING FORCE OF REASONABLENESS. It’s all too easy to not quite follow through on your good idea, precisely because it’s different. The Heath brothers urge us to watch out for this tendency, to give your idea the oxygen to grow.’
Full transcript of Episode 81
Hey there, folks. This is Rob Woods and welcome to episode number 81 of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast. This is the show for anyone who works in fundraising and want some ideas, some encouragement, and maybe a little nudge of inspiration to help you raise more money and enjoy your job, especially during the pandemic. And if you’ve already listened to episode 80, that’s the previous episode of this show, you’ll know that that one was about aha moments, insight-giving moments where charities can proactively decide to do some kind of demonstration or mini activity that helps a supporter at your event or in a meeting get a deeper connection to, or understanding of your cause. And because this is not the easiest fundraising tactic I’m aware of, whereas last week’s episode was largely examples of some charities that have done that effectively, this episode, I’ve created as a partner to that will one where we go more into the practicalities and some top tips to help you actually implement it successfully.
Now, the backstory to it, you may remember if you had listened to episode 80 was that about a week ago, I saw a brilliant piece of TV on the Saturday night and I was watching strictly and in case you didn’t see it or in case you’re not in the U.K. and you don’t even know about this dancing show, what happened was in week eight of series 19 of Strictly Come Dancing on the BBC, there was a really beautiful and moving moment that happened within one of the dances and it got an amazing reaction. And what happened was, Rose, who is one of the celebrity contestants, she’s a brilliant dancer and she also is the first contestant on Strictly in the history of that show to be deaf. And what she did is before her dance, she mentioned that she was going to include a surprise within the dance, and she was dedicating that surprising moment to the deaf community.
And then when she was doing that dance with her partner, Giovanni, there was a moment midway through where the music stopped and she and Giovanni carried on dancing and they did so beautifully to the silence, but as if to the music and then a few seconds later, the music kicked back in and it sounds simple to say, but watching it was really compelling and I found it really moving. And so did my family, as far as I could tell, so did the judges and millions of other viewers. And I was moved, but also fascinated by what happened and when I reflected on it, to state the obvious, the reason it was moving is because Rose and Giovanni created a moment for us in which we got a tiny glimpse of what it might be like to dance when you don’t hear the music and in that moment, I suggest we felt something deeper and more meaningful than ever could have been achieved if Rose or anyone else had tried to describe that concept just by using words and to describe it more intellectually.
So the previous episode of the podcast was all about that concept of ways that charities can create little experiential moments, little demonstrations or activities that appropriately and elegantly explained and set up. You can do at events or in meetings with major donors or groups and associations or companies, and I gave three particular examples of charities I’m aware have done that, especially effectively. One was a sight loss charity that did a little demonstration, again, not with a virtual reality headset, but just with some… A piece of bubble wrap and a particular set of words they use to take someone through a mini process. I also talked about a wonderful charity that helps survivors of stroke and how they liked that previous example from the site loss charity and they went away and developed something really interesting that they use with their own supporters, and it’s been extremely effective for them, especially when working with groups and associations and companies and doing network events and making presentations.
And I also talked about the brilliant results that a charity that does operations to help children who have facial disfigurements and cleft pellets, and a very ingenious, major donor fundraiser has developed a particular tactic that she uses when meeting major donors and other partners to help them connect to the lifesaving difference that those operations can make. And then I went on to say that in truth, this experiential tactic is not the easiest thing you can plan and set up. I mean, it’s very, very effective, but it’s not the easiest. So I said, level one, if you’re looking to create more impactful and inspiring meetings and events with your supporters, the first key thing I would urge you to do is to go out and deliberately search out more real examples and stories and practice ways of including and sharing those when you talk to supporters.
Definitely, I would get that sorted and make progress in that area rather than rush onto the harder thing of the experiential, but that said, there is something else you can do and in today’s episode, I’m going to start by talking about another tactic, which just builds on and is a little more advanced, but also more impactful than the story tactic. Then after I’ve shared that one, I’m going to move on to some troubleshooting tips that I’ve found over the years that can help you if you want to be ambitious and seek out your experiential. Secondly, slightly more advanced and risk involved, but massively pays you back, I would suggest is to ask yourself what props could I bring that would bring to life any of these concepts, for instance, about what our beneficiary group faces? And you could just describe that concept with the prop or even better, you might have a story that the prop adds an extra certain something to… As you tell that story, you may be aware that various successful influences in history have used this tactic very skillfully.
Apparently, William Wilberforce, who was one of the campaigners against the slave trade, apparently one of the things he would do when going to a meeting to talk about that cause was to bring with him a real actual slaver’s or ball and chain. And he would put that with a clunk on the desk between him and the person he was talking to or the audience he was addressing. And can you see how the active… I mean, it was quite a lot of extra bother to take these heavy things around with him, but he found it absolutely paid him back because the effect it had on disproportionately, helping people connect at an emotional, as well as an intellectual level to the fight they were on the problem they were facing really paid off. There’s lots and lots and lots of different kinds of object you can use to bring to life your message or your story, or to help people connect to a particular problem.
One of the ones we talk about in our courses is obvious in a way, but I once met a very successful major donor fundraiser for a famous charity and one of the things she kept in her bag was a little packet of rehydration salts. So when she was describing actually a major killer in certain poorer countries is not the really unusual, exotic seeming diseases, but something as ubiquitous as diarrhea can actually be a real killer and describing that and why that is and able to show rehydration salts, just how inexpensive and practical a solution can be to, for instance, that problem. Again, can you see how, if you could explain these concepts in a strong and authoritative way, but having done right, and again, not patronizingly, but having the object on the table in front of you can add a power to your communication.
So I’ve been teaching these ideas for several years now, and I’ve found that there are some pitfalls and one of the major ones is it is possible to come up with a way of doing a demonstration or giving your supporters an experience, which leaves a slightly bad taste in the mouth. It just doesn’t quite work, and a major reason for that is some of your audience could feel that they were manipulated or that this was a cheap stunt. It was a gimmick. So I think you’re right to be cautious about that and I’ve be really disappointed and sad if you went away, took a risk, and did a version of this without properly testing it and thinking through this issue, and it actually causing you to lose rapport with some of your supporters because of the topic you chose. That said, I’ve seen so many positive and really congruently positive, enthusiastic responses to what Rose and Giovanni did.
It may just say something about who I follow on Twitter, but I haven’t seen a single person who said it was a cheap stunt and it was a gimmick. So it is possible to choose a way of giving an experience that creates an aha moment, which absolutely works and is not at all gimmicky. If you want, all my courses, I go into this in more depth and help you apply it and answer questions and so on, but the simple test for how to do it is number one, be sure to search for a way of evoking that deeper meaning about a subject or a concept that matters, i.e, usually it’s to do with either a problem that your beneficiary group actually experience or what it’s like to be in their world, not a problem that your charity faces, because though your donor might like your charity, I promise you almost always, they care about solving the problem. They care about the beneficiary group more than they care about your charity.
So focus it on that, not your charity’s problems or indeed you could have a demonstration or a prop or something that helps solidify the difference your charity makes, for instance, the rehydration sorts, but the other piece of advice, which is maybe sounds obvious in a way, but the here’s the litmus test. When you’re having an idea session to think of what we could possibly do that could be our activity, our equivalent to the ones I’ve been describing, some ideas will be good and in my view, some are less likely to work. The way you tell a difference is you ask yourself after someone has experienced this little demonstration or activity or prop, will they understand and see the reason why we chose to do it this way, rather than just describing it? Will they get the logic of why we did it in this particular braver and more creative way?
And I think unequivocally the answer for that question in the context of Rosie’s dance is yes, we totally understand why she chose to help us connect to this idea in the way that she did, but I suggest when you search for ideas, some of those, it’ll just be a disconnect. It won’t add up, and if that’s the case, I think you shouldn’t do it because it could come across as manipulation or a gimmick that was designed to shock or surprise, but actually didn’t have any educational value in it. 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.
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 then 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 benefit from it. A one-day conference is all very well, but actually having something which 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.
If you’d like to know more about how this training club works, go to Brightspotmembersclub.co.UK/join. For now, though, back to the episode. The other thing is if you are stuck and you think, “Oh, I don’t know where to start. I’m a fundraiser. I don’t know what our equivalent might be.” Don’t despair. One of the best things you could do is just ask yourself, “Is there anyone in my charity who’s most likely to know these kinds of stories, use these kinds of prop or demonstrations in their everyday work?” A case in point is the example I mentioned earlier about an organization to do with stroke, that brilliant Starburst activity was already being used by the person whose job it was to train volunteers who were staffing that charity’s help line. So she was already even good at how to describe it and how to make it work.
She’d ironed out the possible challenges. So it was already on a plate, if you like, for the fundraiser to just go and learn how to do, but if you can’t think of what yours equivalent might be, I suggest in many charities, there’s someone who’s closer to the cause who’s more likely to have these kinds of I ideas already and I would just go and borrow those. Certainly, have a conversation with them. Just to finish off, I’ve got a last couple of ideas. To make this work, the detail matters, and one of the most important details is the setup, is explaining what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. I think it’s really smart that Rose and Giovanni, before they did the dance, they had let us know that there was going to be this surprise coming. And I think just to state the obvious, if they hadn’t done that, some of us might have wondered what was wrong with the volume on our TV set and that thought would’ve been crossing our mind and we might have been searching for the remote and we’d have failed to be present and appreciate the moment.
So your supporter will be the same. Don’t spring surprises on them without some sense of preframing why you might be about to lead them through a mini experience, and then you keep rapport and then you maximize the chances that they’ll take something from that experience. But equally, I’ve seen some fundraisers say too much and try and explain what the concept is and how you are going to feel in words rather than allow the activity or the story or the prop to do the work. If you see what I mean, so work harder on the setup and the explanation of the demo, but not doing too much talking before it actually happens. Maybe afterwards, you might engage in some discussion or ask the donor what they felt about what had happened. Tone is really important. I’m guessing the person listening is… The reason you’re a good fundraiser is you work hard to understand your donor or your supporter’s point of view and their model of the world, but beware some charities, part of what you do is express anger and outrage to forces within society that cause harm to the cause that you represent.
And that it’s right that your chief exec or your head of policy be good at crafting that communication, but be aware I’ve seen inadvertently what can happen is that that anger can inadvertently be received by the people who came to your event. So don’t be angry at them. If they came to your event, they care, or they want to care, and equally, work hard on how to describe the thing without being patronizing and implying that they don’t understand and they should understand. Again, with Rose as example, I haven’t seen every single strictly episode, I have to admit, but at no point this series, have I ever got a sense of Rose saying to us or to anyone else, “Look, you people don’t understand. You need to understand what it’s like from my point of view.” I’ve never received… And as she may, well sometimes feel that, but at no point has she come across with a critical or judgmental tone of people who don’t quite get some of what she was communicating.
So what I would suggest is practice how you do this story or this little activity, and make sure that you’re communicating it in a way so that the supporter or would be supporter, they feel like you’re on their side rather than judging them for not yet understanding in a particular way. And the last thing I would say, though, in a way, this is every bit is important, the phrase I highlighted when I read the book called The Power of Moments was, and it stood out to me as it was particularly important was beware the soul-sucking force of reasonableness. And I have found with my sometimes good ideas throughout my career, often I’ve not gotten round to actually implementing some of my bolder ideas, not because they actually they weren’t good and effective, but because the fearful voice in my head won out. So there definitely are some versions of this that I recommend you don’t apply for the reasons I’ve just mentioned earlier to do with gimmicks and tone and so on, but if you can…
When you look at it, your prop or your story or demonstration does bring to life an important concept for your supporters, and you’ve practiced a way to deliver it where that effect happens and you can get the tone right and people won’t feel judged or patronized if you were to do it. Then if all those are true, I suggest beware there’s a chance that you’ll procrastinate or the fearful voice will win out and you’ll end up not implementing or at least trying out something that really could have made a disproportionate difference to the way people feel and understand. I definitely would say don’t rush out and test one of these things for the first time in a big pitch or in front of an important supporter or trustee without having tested it first, but to overcome the soul sucking force of reasonableness. If at some level you feel this is strong and it could work, I suggest you just test it with a colleague and then another colleague, and maybe then in a team meeting.
You’ll iron out the kinks, you’ll be able to make sure it beats the gimmick test, and then for the big meetings and pitches and events, I think you’ll be able to deliver it with confidence because you know you’ve found out a recipe that really works and the effect, the difference in inspiration and understanding pays you back for the risk that you’ve taken. Well, I hope you found today’s ideas helpful. If you’ve not yet heard it, do check out episode 80 of this podcast, because that’s the companion episode to this one where I share some more examples in more depth. Also, episode 17 of the show on the same subject, I’m interviewing Di Gornall in that one where she shares how her charity has used experiential fundraising concepts to create effect.
And in terms of today’s episode, if you’d like to get a full transcript and a summary, those are on the podcast section of our website, which is Brightspotfundraising.co.uk. And if you’d like to find out more about our Bright Spot Members Club, which is our training and inspiration site for fundraisers, you can find out more at Brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. There, you can find out all about the resources that our 320 members can make use of 24/7, including an extensive library of my best training films and downloads, as well as live workshops every week. If you found today’s episode helpful, then I’d be really grateful if you could take a moment to share it on to your colleagues or on social media, to other fundraisers so that we can help as many charities as possible during this difficult year. And if you want to get in touch, you can find me fairly easily on LinkedIn or on Twitter. I am @woods_rob. So thank you for listening. I hope it was helpful. Good luck creating wow moments for your charity, and I look forward to sharing more of Bright Spot examples and ideas with you very soon.