Standing in the Donor’s shoes.

In my last blog “Herd Instinct” I used the phrase “standing in the donor’s shoes”. It is one of the key skills a successful fundraiser needs to cultivate. Call it empathy, sensitivity or whatever, but it is the ability to visualise how your story sounds from the prospect’s viewpoint. Fundraisers develop passion for their cause and are sometimes so keen to promote it they don’t absorb the reactions of their audience. One of my earlier blogs “Two ears, two eyes, one mouth” is worth remembering.

What prospects want to know is: “Why Should I Buy. How does your proposal satisfy my needs?” If you have grabbed their attention, the second question is the logical follow up. “WIIFM – What’s In It For Me?” There are a vast number of ways prospective donors look for a return: They feel compassion; wish to share good fortune; relate to the cause through personal experience; they want public recognition. Fundraising the Essentials for Success discusses this in more detail. Your ability to relate to your prospects and understand their needs is the key to success. In other words you need to be standing in the donor’s shoes.

In one of my University fundraising assignments I was tasked with raising money for a research project, related to the social sciences. Funding of £50,000 was required to complete the research, so it was a serious piece of work. I discussed the project with the professor heading up the programme. I was given a detailed resume of the project and the methodologies that would be employed, time scales and detailed costings. A lot of impressive work had gone into the project. We then came to the issue that most interested me, from a fundraising standpoint.

“So what are you hoping the research will reveal?”

“Well” came the response “This is the really exciting thing, we don’t know what to expect.”

I know enough about research to appreciate that setting out with a predetermined view of the outcome is not good procedure. An open mind is essential. I can understand from the academic viewpoint the excitement of the unknown. However I had to explain that “Please fund this project where we have no idea of the outcome” wasn’t a good pitch. They, of course, grasped the problem and we worked out a way to give the project “donor appeal”.

It is fair enough for a research team to have a singular perspective. A fundraiser’s first reaction to any project must be “what’s in it for the donor?” That is the base for a compelling case. Passion and commitment are essential characteristics of good fundraising. So is perspective. I look back on projects that I felt were, at the time, the most important thing in the world. I have learnt that what consumes me is only a small part of the tapestry of another individual’s life. The seed of an idea has to be given time to germinate and flourish – time to establish itself as an important feature in the individual’s tapestry. Push too hard at the wrong time and you will alienate rather than engage. Dale Carnegie is always worth reading.

Put as much time into working out the Prospect as you have spent working out the Project. To do that you have to be standing in the donor’s shoes.