Getting lucky Again!

Sometimes you get lucky(Blog 6) and then there’s Getting lucky Again! Different situations but they both underlined the power of personal experience as a stimulator of charitable giving. Direct contact with a situation creates the  strongest emotional motivation. People who have suffered cancer, or witnessed first hand the plight of refugees instinctively understand and react to need.

Personal involvement and engagement turn black and white words into full colour pictures. I have seen it work in circumstances as varied as medical research, prisoner reintegration and new buildings. Direct experience turns hypothesis into tangible reality, because people “get” the problem and understand how the money will change things.

In Fundraising for Success I talk about The What. What are we raising money for? It’s not actually for equipment or the new building or the additional staff post. It is for what they will deliver. The money buys the new scanner, but the motivation to give is for what the new scanner will achieve when put to use. Expose the donor to these possibilities and the story takes on a compelling personality which sells itself.

The more you can get a prospect on the spot, face to face with the issue, the better becomes your conversion rate. For example rehabilitation of prisoners is not a cause that immediately appeals. There are plenty of negative perceptions associated with that. But when you are directly in front of the ex-con who can testify how the support of a charity changed his life, the perceptions change. When people are directly involved, they understand. See, touch, feel and experience: so much more powerful than mere words.

This message was driven home to me, by chance, when working at St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh. The cathedral desperately needed to replace the archaic lighting and sound systems. That meant a complete renewal of the electrical system. The lighting was so poor that on a dull day the choir couldn’t read their music properly.

Sometimes a campaign’s basic story is not inspirational, but it is important. The replacement of electrical wiring was one of those. It was crucial for the future of the cathedral which dates from 1124. St Giles’ is a significant historical building containing the architectural features, memorials and inscriptions of centuries. It also welcomes a large number of visitors each year and is an important element in Scottish heritage. Unfortunately the ancient lighting did not come close to showing these features to best advantage.  Nor did it allow visitors to properly appreciate the building and its historical significance.

I persuaded a funder with a possible interest in these improvements to visit the cathedral. It was a grey November day. Quite by chance, we bumped into a group of visitors being given a guided tour. The guide was using a torch to point out interesting features. Why was she using a torch? Her reply: “Without the torch I might as well take them round blindfold. They wouldn’t see half of what they should” It was a chance meeting but a totally convincing demonstration of the inadequacy of the lighting system. One sentence said more than a page of writing.

Talk about Getting lucky again! From then on potential donors were always bumping into tour parties lead by a guide with a powerful torch: purely by chance! It was the simplest and most convincing way to demonstrate the need. (and we did raise the money!) Just as we did at Donaldson’s College where the need was so well understood.

I guess it is the basic lesson of fundraising: Only Connect. Personal observation and understanding of a problem are the most powerful persuaders. Engagement is the spark that lights the flame of conviction.