Mon, October 03 2011

The Six Things I Wish I’d Known 20 Years Ago

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

This is my October column for Fundraising Success magazine.  Enjoy!

I’ve been working for more than 20 years, and sometimes I wish I could go back to my younger self and share some hard-won wisdom.  How lovely it would be to whisper in my young ear the knowledge that would save a lot of mistakes, tears and frustration.  The only problem is, I wouldn’t have any of that knowledge without years on the job and life experience spent regularly, sometimes spectacularly, failing.  I had to mess up and age in order to learn the lessons in the first place.

While I can’t share the six things I wish I’d known then with myself, I can give them to you.  Here are the six lessons I have learned over the years – and find myself learning over and over again.  They are simple but also powerful.  And oh-so-easy to forget.

1.  What I wish I had known about fundraising: We’re in the happiness business.  Giving makes people feel joy – and brain science proves it.  The act of contributing to charity activates the pleasure centers of people’s brains.  When we give people the opportunity to help our wonderful cause, we make them happy.  Remember: we’re not in the business of taking away money, we’re in the business of giving joy.  What a great job we have.

2.  What I wish I had known about marketing: It’s not about us, it’s about our audience.  This insight may be marketing 101, but it’s also gold.  Every time I find a message underperforming or a partnership flailing, it’s inevitably because the work being done does not resonate with the other party’s priorities, values and perspective.  I have to remember to channel my energy into understanding my audience above myself, and to speaking to my audience rather than to myself.

3. What I wish I’d known about communications: Feeling first, facts later.  There are no exceptions to the rule that we must awaken the heart to arouse the mind. We have to move someone emotionally before they will take in information—or act. We can’t spout information until we touch the heart.  Speak to the soul so the facts have a fighting chance.

4. What I wish I had also known about communications: Nothing beats a good story about one person.  Including a good story about two, twenty or twenty thousand people.  Research is clear: if we want to spark someone’s empathy and inspire a donation, we must tell the story of our cause through one person (or animal).  We must give our mission a pulse and save the abstractions and statistics for another day.

5. What I wish I had known about the message: Messengers matter.  We can have a stellar message, but if you have the wrong messenger, it won’t matter.  We’re in an era where faith in traditional spokespeople and marketers is at a historic low, and so people are turning to trusted friends, family, independent authorities and peers for their recommendations.  That means we’re best off with messengers other than ourselves.  Who can speak for us?  What champions, leaders or community members can express reach out on our behalf?  They matter more than our own words.

6. What I wish I had known about life: Be generous when you’re hungry. Some of the best advice I ever heard was from Seth Godin, who said: “Be generous when you’re hungry.  It’s difficult to be generous when you’re hungry.  Yet being generous keeps you from going hungry.  Hence the conflict.”  I try to remember this every day. As I’ve said here before, here’s the refrain I created for myself: Generosity inspires generosity, so I’ll give when I’m hungry.  It’s not what I need, it’s what I provide. I’m in the business of giving, not extracting. I’ll focus on the resources I have, not those I lack. I’ll care about relationships, not transactions. True partnership creates prosperity.

What do you wish you’d known then?

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