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Friday, January 19, 2018

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Are You Interesting (Especially To Donors)?
Tom Ahern

February, 2006

Prepare to be lectured by a couple of dead, white guys.

First, Dale Carnegie, author of the 1937 (and perennial) best seller, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

He said: "Youíll have more fun and success when you stop trying to get what you want, and start helping other people get what they want."

A life-changing insight.

It has certainly changed MY business...but enough about me. How do Dale Carnegieís words of wisdom relate to YOUR nonprofit? Hereís my translation:

Your communication efforts will be far more effective and persuasive - in fact, they will become strikingly successful - when you STOP focusing on what your organization wants to say, and START focusing instead on your readers want to hear.

Marketers say the same thing a different way: Itís not what youíre SELLING that matters - what matters is what theyíre BUYING.

Hold that thought.

Now letís meet the second wise man, Howard Luck Gossage (1917-1969). He built an influential ad agency in San Francisco, with clients as disparate as Land Rover and the Sierra Club. One day, the admirable Mr. Gossage had this epiphany:

"The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads," he realized. "People read what interests them...and sometimes itís an ad."

P.S.: You should have felt the earth just move. Why? Because this is the most basic truth I know about communicating effectively and profitably: Itís ALWAYS about what interests the reader and hardly ever about what interests you.

Howard Luck Gossageís insight is so important, Iím going to repeat it: "People read what interests them, and sometimes itís an ad." And sometimes itís your direct mail solicitation. And sometimes itís an article in your newsletter. And sometimes itís your case statement.

The key word is "interest."

People read what interests them. In fact, by and large, they ONLY read what interests them. And Mr. Gossage wasnít the first to stumble on this brutal truth. Benjamin Franklin came to exactly the same conclusion two centuries earlier. He advised, "If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect."

Which brings us to the rub: How DO you interest people you hardly know?

Well, marketers have their ways.

One way is to speak to all four personality types. If youíve read the previous four issues of this e-newsletter (collect Ďem all), then youíre now well versed in how each of those four personality types think.

To review:

Say NEW! to the Expressive. Say YOU! to the Amiable. Answer objections early for the Analytical. And give the Bottom-Liner a fast and obvious way to ACT NOW!

Nonprofits, though, have a special obligation. From extensive research (see below), we know that donors are particularly interested in two things:

(1) "What did you accomplish with my gift?"
(2) "How efficient are you?"

This last item requires your special attention.

When was the last time you made a point of telling donors how much (or how little) your organization spends on administration vs. how much you spend on direct services? Donors DESPERATELY want to know.

Leading nonprofit researcher Bruce Campbell ( has consistently found with all kinds of charities that "donors want much more financial information than they currently receive." (Reported in the 11/01 issue Mal Warwickís mega-helpful newsletter, Successful Direct Mail, Telephone & Online Fundraising; 800-217-7377).

If you leave it to donors to guess your administrative costs, they WILL guess wrong - and not in your favor. Consider this eye-opening finding: in surveys, English donors guessed that their favorite charities spent more than 60% on administrative costs, leaving less than 40% to go into direct services.

Donors are seriously interested in your administrative efficiency. Make sure you tell them...future gifts and upgrades will depend on it.


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