Has Our Message Stuck?

Everyone knows that to be an outstanding fundraiser you must be an outstanding storyteller. But that knowledge isn’t nearly enough because…

i) Everyone knows it so everyone’s doing it.

 There are 180, 000 registered charities, with countless more too small to register. Last year our sector sent over 166 million pieces of DM.  Millions more conversations are held on the street, door and phone.  And you can’t blink without being asked to text a donation to something.  All try to tell their story to a diminishing number of donors who’ve heard it all before.

ii) We don’t just compete with each other.

How many adverts do you think you’ll have seen by the end of the day? 50? 500?  The answer, on average, is 1600, and yours is just one of them.  As the great George Smith said “The consumer does not separate the commercial mail from the fundraising mail and save the latter for more earnest consideration. Junk mail is junk mail, no matter how diverse the motives of the mailer”.

iii) Knowing you have to tell a story doesn’t make you a storyteller.

We have access to the most powerful, emotive stories on the face of the earth. But we’re not very good storytellers. A recent Ph.D. study of over 2000 online and direct mail fundraising documents concluded the way we communicate is “…overly formal, cold, detached, and abstract.”

How can we get it so wrong? In our rush to tell a story we forgot it’s not a story at all.  Before you wrote it someone lived it. But the raw authentic voice of our beneficiary is sterilized because we worry it won’t be signed off. Emotional impact is lost because beneficiaries are off brand.

Fundraisers face these obstacles every day. So, along with my friend the brilliant Lucy ‘Innovation’ Gower, I presented proven principles on how to overcome them at the Institute of Fundraising’s National Convention. Being voted by my peers as a top speaker has made my Monday. But the real reward will be hearing from those who’ve used the session to make their fundraising stand out…


Want to INFLUENCE your donors THINKING in a way that STICKS?

Then add these three books to your summer reading list…

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Take a good look at the two lines below. Obviously line A is longer right?


Wrong. Lines A and B are of identical length. If you measure them,  your conscious, the being you call ‘I’, has a new belief. Now you know the lines are equally long and if asked you’d say what you know. But you still see the top line as longer. You cannot decide to see the lines as equal, even though you know they are.

Why? Because our brains aren’t as rational as we flatter ourselves. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes the mental life using the metaphor of two agents, called System 1 and System 2. System 2 is slow, and deliberate. It requires effort and concentration, but it’s lazy. That’s where System 1 takes over.  It’s intuitive, impulsive, and the secret author of most the choices we make.

The more we understand the way we think the better we can influence our donors, which brings me to my next book recommendation.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini PH.D

This book breaks down the psychology of why people say ‘yes’.

Our brains, for the most part, operate on auto-pilot. We don’t have the time, energy or capacity to deal with the huge amount of stimulus we’re exposed to everyday. To deal with it we need shortcuts. When making a decision we resort to pre-conceived stereotypes; rules of thumb that classify things according to a few key features. Most of the time we respond automatically when one or another of these trigger features is present.

Through over thirty-five years of rigorous, evidence based, research Cialdini has uncovered many of these triggers. His book presents six universal principles to help you become a skilled persuader. (Want to know which single word added to an ask saw response rates jump to 94%?!)

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

Everyone in the sector talks about storytelling. Every conference, every blogger, every fundraising journalist goes on (and on, and on) about why we should be telling stories. But very few fundraisers know how to tell one. In a crowded marketplace (there’s over 180, 000 registered charities in the UK, plus countless more too small to register) it’s vital your story stands out.

In this book the brilliant Heath brothers break down the six factors that make a story, a message, or a movement ‘sticky’, by changing your audience’s opinions and behaviours. Using them will make sure what you say is understood and remembered in a way that has a lasting impact.

These books aren’t about fundraising, so why should fundraisers read them? Because we have a duty to those we serve to ask others to help them. Great fundraisers must be great influencers; otherwise we’re just well-intentioned people drawing a salary from suffering.

These books aren’t theory; they’re empirical evidence based research. Reading and applying them will make sure you’re influencing your donors thinking in a way that sticks.


‘Thank you – We Got It!’

Recently, Amnesty International gave me an experience (as a supporter) which has reinforced the way in which I think we should be talking to supporters.   It was a beautiful example of great  donor stewardship.

Firstly, it was based on a simple premise.   On the eve of their vote to finally create an Arms Trade treaty, the campaign encouraged me to just send simple emails in support of Amnesty’s lobbying of the UN General Assembly.

Amnesty made it easy for me to do this.  All I had to do was enter my name, mobile number and click send –  then they acknowledged my action immediately.   I received an instant bounce-back telling me my emails had gone and that the swell of support for this campaign was growing fast.

Get others involved.   I was then encouraged to forward the campaign email onto my friends, family, workmates – or anyone who I thought might want to get involved.  I felt good about doing this because I was joining Amnesty to help them with what they’re already fantastic at doing– mobilising opinion & inspiring others.

Kept me updated on progress.   I was sent SMS messages to my mobile  phone, updating me that Amnesty had received an overwhelming response and they were increasingly hopeful of success-  keeping me involved at every stage of the campaign.

Finally the day of the vote arrived.  What would happen?  Had we been able to make a difference?  I received an email that evening at 7:02pm.


‘Thank You We Got it!’ Five little words that had one big impact on my engagement with the charity!

A historic agreement that I helped to make happen.  Amnesty had made sure I understood that and crucially, they made me feel good about myself.

Not only did it inspire and motivate me to give again and again, but, more strongly than ever, it made me feel that I can and do make a difference every day by giving to this wonderful cause –  reminding me why I decided to support them in the first place!