Tue, February 12 2008

The Bus Stop Broadside

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

I just started writing a monthly column for Fundraising Success Magazine.  Check out the current issue here - it’s pretty interesting stuff.  Be sure to read Jeff Brooks’ column on “protecting victims.”

Here’s mine:

Imagine you’re waiting at the bus stop on a busy street in your town. It’s a cold day, and you’ve got your hood up and your head down. You’re thinking about a lot of things. That you’re going to be late to work if the bus doesn’t soon appear. That you forgot to pick up your dry cleaning. That all that holiday overconsumption has made your pants too tight. That your spouse doesn’t look at you the same way anymore. That you forgot to feed your daughter’s guinea pig this morning.

Then I walk up and interrupt your thoughts. I’m a complete stranger, and I say: “Greetings. I’m Katya, and I’m a good person. I was born in 1967. My mission in life is to raise my children well, love those around me and leave the world a little better than when I entered it. I need a friend, and you could be my friend. Will you be my friend today?”

I imagine that you would think I was nuts. And quite the narcissist.

Yet we fundraisers launch into this kind of creepy plea all the time. I have a stack of year-end appeals from December on my desk, and too many sound just like my stranger at the bus stop. Here’s the template:

Holiday greetings.
I’m writing from XYZ Nonprofit.
Established in (year), our mission is to (mission statement).
We need money.
Give us money.
Thanks in advance.
PS: Give us money.

I think this is nuts. And narcissistic. And it sounds like the bus-stop broadside. Fundraisers can and should do better. We should beware the bus-stop broadside fundraiser in all of us.

Why? People are busy, and their thoughts are not on us. They’re thinking about their weight, their job, their spouse, their children, the guinea pig, their place in this universe. If we interrupt them and ask for their attention, we had better do it well. We should not start a conversation with a monologue on our merits. We should acknowledge our readers’ presence and speak to their interests. We should not solely focus on what we want from them. We should focus on what we can achieve together.

If this sounds like common sense, well then, you’re on to me. This column, a new one here at FundRaising Success, is going to focus on the common sense we always forget. It’s about forgotten fundamentals — those immutable laws of marketing that are so easy to recognize and so hard to remember to do. And the fundamental we forget most often is this: To succeed in fundraising, we need to focus on our audience and not just ourselves.

I can speak with great authority on this topic because I’m constantly forgetting this fundamental. I forget that not everyone wakes up first thing in the morning thinking about online giving, which is the focus of my work at Network for Good. It slips my mind that my cocktail party companions might not share my zeal for all things marketing. I have a recurring case of mission myopia. The only cure is self-awareness and regular booster shots of an anti-nonprofit-narcissism vaccine.

Last year, Network for Good processed its 100 millionth dollar for nonprofits; a huge milestone for us. I started to draft a press release, but sanity prevailed. “Who would care?” I thought. No one, I realized. So I thought about why people should care. And what I realized was we were sitting on a fascinating set of data about giving. What if we celebrated our $100 million mark by analyzing our $100 million in giving — who gives online, where, what time of day, etc. — and sending our study to media and nonprofits? It would help media covering the charity beat, and it would help nonprofits fundraise more effectively. The result? A lot of attention and coverage of our work that continues to this day.

I was reminded of that study a few weeks ago when I was drafting a year-end e-mail to Network for Good’s friends and funders. The occasion was our sixth birthday, and the purpose of the note was to talk about the great things we’d achieved the past year. Then I realized that our birthday wasn’t really an occasion at all. Who cares, besides the people in my office, that we’re 6? And why should we be beating our chests, taking all the credit for the good we’d done? I was doing the bus-stop broadside.

So I started over. I drafted a heartfelt thank-you to our friends and funders for all they’ve done to make us what we are. The e-mail talked about how much we appreciate their investment of money, time and moral support — and the incredible returns that have resulted. It celebrated the difference the audience had made, and people loved it. 

Here’s the bad news. It’s hard to do this. Our tendency as fundraisers who love our cause is to talk about our cause.

Here’s the good news. When we do the work of thinking about how our cause relates to our audience, wonderful things happen. It’s worth the effort. We turn our preachy monologue into a respectful, engaging conversation. People respond because they want to have a relationship with us. We become great fundraisers, and we might even make a new best friend at the bus stop. FS

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