QUICK SHOT: A Fundraiser’s Fish Tale

Dad always told me “fishing takes patience.” But as a kid, I’d get so excited at a nibble that I’d yank the pole… so hard, in fact, that the poor fish often flew through the air, over my head and into the bushes behind me. And if you’re wondering, yep – sometimes I couldn’t find the fish in the bushes! It wasn’t until he taught me to use the lure, a gentle guiding line and a net that I was able to successfully bring the treasure to shore.

Today, as a fundraiser and a “Fisher of Men,” I finally get this concept. Having the right tools and approach can make a big difference in both angling and philanthropy.

What’s interesting is, when it comes to donors, not everyone has the same motivation for solving problems. They may share the same passion for the organization, but support it to address different stages in the rescue, rehabilitation or transitional outcome.

Understanding how both (sometimes opposing) concepts live side by side in direct response can lead to longer, more sustaining donor relationships.

In acquisition, use the right net.

Although rescue may apply to almost any cause, in Human Services, basic needs are considered a priority. Providing food, shelter and other daily essentials is an immediate fix. Images connecting donors to the message of urgent need are portrayed by the power of the eyes… and we all know how powerfully the despairing gaze of an individual in a photo can move you to tears, then to your checkbook.

Donors are more likely to be moved and make a gift when they feel the problem is achievable – like feeding one person, right now – rather than being overwhelmed by general suffering. That’s why using individual stories and photos are key to getting someone to connect with your message and your mission.

Even Mother Teresa got the basics of marketing when she said,“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

When you show the need through imagery, it drives a very important part in the quantity of your donor portfolio, like a fishing net.

Just like any human relationship, the first physical or tactile response has merely seconds to connect. Our animal instincts kick in, and we get emotional about helping. This impulse is often a fundamental process in direct response acquisition, and it applies to every kind of media. From billboards to digital display ads, images tell the story that motivates people to support a cause for the first time.

In cultivation, long-term keeps donors on the line.

A net may draw them in… but what inspires donors to continue giving may need to be approached differently. Whether it’s because the donor has more to give, or is more deeply invested in your work, the motivators that keep them giving are much more complex to communicate.

Middle and major donor motivations often revolve around people’s long-term transformation, or whole-person recovery. And while their life change may start with a meal, it’s not an immediate fix – but a process of regular support and accountability.

Fundraising author Steve Corbett suggests: “If we treat only the symptoms or if we misdiagnose the underlying problem, we will not improve their situation, and we might actually make their lives worse.” ¹

Telling tales is key to engaging and inspiring donors.

The main reason your donors give… and continue to give? They feel good about themselves and the impact they’re making in their community and the world around them. So continue to show them the outcome of their support with real-life stories of inspiration.

Newsletters are a great way to show how their generosity is transforming hearts each and every day. By sharing the story of someone whose life has been changed – and making the donor the hero of the story with heaps of genuine praise and gratitude for their support that made it possible – you’ll keep them anchored to your mission and eager to stay onboard.

A real-life BDI case study.

As you can see, these potentially opposing views on immediate vs. long-term needs could apply to a single organization’s manifesto.

In a nationwide survey, our BDI Research Team concluded that in “rescue vs. recovery” offers, monthly donors, younger donors (under 65) and those giving over $1,000 are more likely to give to life change, compared to your average meals.

And this is how we move and motivate the newly acquired general donors to committed, long-term partners – whether that’s as monthly givers, major donors or just consistent and dedicated supporters.

Our team got crucial new insights from this study, like:

  • The right story is more important in fostering empathy than the imagery. However, they’re the most powerful in combination.
  • Subjects like rehabilitation, restoration and recovery need the right kind of platform and media mix.
    • Images of your facilities and/or programs can be effective when you show them in context of one of your guests in that setting, taking advantage of your services.
    • As I mentioned above, newsletters offer you a greater capacity for storytelling and showing your donor the outcome of their gift.
    • Video in social media is also a way to keep attention by sharing a deeper audio and visual experience.
  • A donor interested in a long-term impact may typically spend a longer time reading and looking at your media, to learn more about their role in that process.

Simply consider your donor’s journey. It may be just like a romance (and here you thought I was going to compare it to fishing!) – in that the first impression is extremely sensory. However, as we begin to build deeper relationships with donors, we can ask or expect a greater investment of time and contribution as the partnership deepens and strengthens.

If we understand the basic motivations from the beginning (acquisition), we can “get to know” our donors (through cultivation). Our investment in our donors is as important as our investment into those we serve.

As we all work together to serve as “Fishers of Men,” it’s important to remember these concepts and keep these core values at the heart of your fundraising efforts. Like most things in life, patience and commitment are the virtues for success. Thanks for the valuable life lessons you’ve taught me, Dad!

¹Corbett, Steven. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself.  

  • Kevin Bryant

    Kevin Bryant, Director of Client Partnership

    Internationally recognized as an ECHO and ADDY Award winning creative talent, Kevin is a fundraising veteran with clients including; The North American Mission Board, Salvation Army, American Red Cross, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Precept and Guidepost Ministries, and Samaritan’s Purse. Having worked on both the agency and client side, he’s dedicated to building a bridge between the two to make programs and partnerships successful.

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