Maya Angelou’s lessons for life and fundraising

How One Change To Your Vocabulary Will Impact How Your Donors Feel

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

There is one particular phrase that charities use that grates on me more than any other… we’re talking nails-on-a-chalkboard grates. My reaction is visceral when I read something like “With your help, we were able to raise $X…” Nothing detaches me more from a cause than that one phrase. It’s like my money vanishes into a large pool of more money, never to be heard from again.

The goal of every piece of communication between an organization and its donors is to connect the donors to the people (or animals or plants or robots) they are helping. NOT to the organization they are supporting. The more they feel part of the solution to the problem, the more willing they will be to open up their hearts and wallets again and again.

The key word in the sentence above is “feel.”

Fundraising is about emotion. Donors give with their hearts, not with their heads. Make them feel happy or proud or generous or powerful. But whatever you do, make them feel.

One of the most effective ways of connecting donors to the actual cause is to eliminate the name of the organization and any “we” substitutes from your vocabulary and copy. It may sound crazy at first, but I promise that donors will not suddenly forget the name of your organization in the middle of a conversation or as they read your email.

The difference between “Your donation to Panda Savers will help us save the dying panda bear” and “Your donation will save the dying panda bear” is crucial. It’s not semantics; it’s what separates a cog from a motherboard. It affects how and what your donors feel.

Panda Savers will not save the dying panda. “YOU will save the dying panda!”

Donors don’t care how great your organization is. Donors care what impact they can create by donating. The closer the connection between their donation and the intended impact, the more heroic donors feel. And, all too often, because nonprofit professionals are so good at what they do and care so deeply about their cause, they talk to donors on a deep level. About details. About statistics. About the weeds.

And when donors hear about the details, it can actually create distance between them and the impact.

But, if you keep your rhetoric simple. if you cut down on jargon and focus on tying your audience directly to the people they are helping, you will create a connection that will pay dividends well into the future.

There is a problem in the world. Show donors how they and only they can solve it. They’ll feel like a million bucks, and, trust me, they’ll never forget it.

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