Your donors are impressionable. Are you impressing them?

indelible2Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a recent post, John shared an experience he had 20 year ago with a housekeeping employee who helped him out as he prepared to facilitate a big meeting. This customer service oriented employee left a lasting impression on John so much so that he can’t shake the memory.

Of all the things we forget as humans, why do some things stick with us for a lifetime?

For this fundraising professional, I look at John’s blog post and my mind starts spinning on the following questions:

  • How can I leave a last impression on donors?
  • What techniques, strategies and best practices should use to increase the odds that I am leaving that indelible mark on a donor?

As a newly minted executive director way back in 2001, I made the decision to change the format of my agency’s annual dinner special event fundraiser. As part of the event format, we had our Youth of the Year recipient speak for a few minutes about how the agency impacted her life.

Her name was LaShaunda. As I recall, she was a junior in high school at the time, and she was a reluctant public speaker. Prior to the event, we polished and practiced her speech.

As she stepped to the podium, I paced the back of the room. I was nervous for LaShaunda and I was rooting her on because this was her big moment. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this wasn’t just her moment . . . it was also one of those “lasting and impressionable” moments for the agency and a group of very important donors.

LaShaunda spoke eloquently about her parent’s divorce, running with the wrong crowd, street violence, teen pregnancy and racism. Most importantly, she talked frankly about how the agency helped her through a tough time in her life.

indelible1In that five-minute period of time as I paced the back of the banquet hall, there was a moment where I stopped listening and worrying about LaShaunda and I focused on what was happening in the room:

  • You could hear a pin drop. Everyone was locked-in on what this 16-year-old was saying.
  • I saw the former police chief, who helped found the agency, fighting back tears.
  • I saw a bank president and one of our biggest donors at the time, wiping tears from his cheek.
  • At the end of the dinner, the city manager made a bee-line across the room (she literally looked like a salmon fighting upstream as the room emptied) so that she could ask LaShaunda to take a picture with her.

I wish I could say that I was the evil genius who engineered that evening to unfold the way it did. I’d be over-stating things if I took that much credit.

I still periodically come across donors in my community who talk remember that special evening and talk about how moving LaShaunda’s five-minute speech was.

Truth be told . . . I learned a huge fundraising lesson that evening and it echoes what John is talking about in his OD blog:

  • Donors are people and they are impressionable.
  • Good fundraising professional should always be focused on how to leave that lasting impression.
  • This isn’t about manipulation. It is about showing people “how” we’re using their contribution, and “what” the return on investment actually is in human terms.
  • Facts and figures (e.g. program outcomes data and community impact statistics) are important, but people want to hear about those things as part of a story. Individuals give for emotional reasons. So, you need to connect with them on that emotional level if you want to leave a lasting impression.

What are you doing to make a lasting impression with your donors? The following are two interesting resources I found online that speak to the issue of “making an impression”:

Do you have a story to share with your fellow DonorDreams blog readers about a time you made a lasting impression (aka a transformative moment) with a donor? In sharing that story in the comment box below, would you also share what you think you did right to make it an impressionable moment?

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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