[Dalya's Note: This guest post by Claire Axelrad was originally published on April 16, 2013 on her blog, Clairification.]
What’s the number one thing you strive for in your marketing and fundraising strategy? Challenge yourself to think about this for a moment. Really think. Trust me; you’ll remember it better if you think first. Don’t skip ahead.
Got a word?
There’s one word that should come to mind. This word should become your mantra. It should underscore everything you do. Your annual appeal writing. Your special events. Your newsletters. Your blog posts. Your proposals. Your reports. Your social media.
If you take this one word to heart, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Moreover, this is the one word that can set you apart. That can help you build relationships like nothing else. Ready?
Let’s get personal
What would it be like if you knew all your supporters, and they knew you? It would be fan-fricking-tastic! Gosh darn it; don’t you get tired of being one of the anonymous masses? Don’t you just love it when you feel personally welcomed? When someone listens to you and you can tell they really heard you? When someone cares about you and asks how you’re doing?
People used to have more of this personal connection. Back in the day, everyone knew their neighborhood grocer, butcher, bread maker and haberdasher. Then came the post WWII flight to the suburbs and with it mass-market department stores and shopping malls. No more specialization. No more personalization. Anonymous little houses on a hillside. Nonprofits fall prey to the same blandness. To the potential donor many of them look identical. They all claim to be “making a difference” and “creating change” and “saving lives.” They all send out appeals with “Dear Claire” and “thanks to you Claire” and similar stand-ins for a personal touch. But they’re not authentic; they don’t connect.
People are tired of being treated all the same.
People tired of this sameness long ago. Department stores selling everything, specializing in nothing, morphed into “Chairs R Us,” “Toys R Us,” “Office Depot,” “Just Desserts,” and “Personal Shoppers.” People craved specialists. Choices. Today we’re seeing a flight back to the cities, with all the differentiation and choices they offer.
Embrace personalization and you can wake folks up! Seriously, they won’t know what hit them.
- What if the person who takes the event reservations is the same person who sits at the check-in table? And what if they greet each guest by name; then add a personal recollection like “Oh, hello Claire. So nice to meet you in person. I was the one who took your reservation. Is you puppy feeling better?”
- What if your thank you letter has a hand-written note from the executive director, or a board member, or even a staff member? Not just a slick, generic “thanks so much for making a difference,” but something at least as personal as “so glad you can come to the event this year; I’ll look for you there.” Even better would be to add something remembered from your last encounter. Something like: “Can’t wait to see what dress you’ll be wearing this year!” And then what if the note writer actually makes a point of looking for you at the event?
- What if the newsletter you receive leads with hand-selected articles about the program for which you earmarked your donation? What if everything you receive is tailored through list segmentation, so that nothing seems generic?
- What if the same volunteer who called to thank you for your gift last year is the one who calls to ask you this year? And what if they remember something from your call last year and ask you about it? Or if they simply look at the program for which you earmarked your last gift, reference it, and tell you how it’s doing — thanks to your help?
- What if you receive a card on your birthday? And not just a plain card with a computer-generated signature, but one with a personal note from someone you know. Or one with a special gift for something you like (they noticed you always buy ice cream at their café… or attend the jazz series… or give to save endangered tigers; then enclose a coupon or sticker related to your area of interest).
- What if someone noticed you weren’t feeling well one day; then called a day or two later to check in on you? What if they asked if there was anything they could do to help?
Chances are good that any of these personal strategies would make you feel welcomed, cared for and favorably impressed.
Early in my career I received a piece of fundraising advice that has stuck with me to this day: People are all people.
Even businesses and foundations are people. Wealthy. Poor. Old. Young. Treat everyone like people. Don’t put them at arms length just because they may be different from you. Don’t be afraid of their status or size. Find a way to connect. And don’t forget that they aren’t stereotypes; no one is the same. That’s the beauty of being human. Just be human. Philanthropy means “love of humankind.”
With the digital revolution there’s been a tendency to become more robotic and sleep inducing. Don’t let tools overshadow people. Much has changed, but people are still people. People need people. People crave relationships. They’re driven to connect tribally and form communities. So moan about the digital world all you want, but don’t despair. It doesn’t mean you can no longer connect with people in real time. In fact, it means you can connect with people 24/7. Just do it with your distinct personal touch.
Personal is back in fashion. Try it on for size.