Miss the beginning of the series? Go to Gnarly Growth Part 1: A Creative Approach To A Traditional Fundraiser.
In the beginning, Our Beards of Hope relied on networking. No budget, no existing donor base, and no newsletter list. Just a guy working his network. But at the end of a five-month campaign, the social network was thriving. Beard-growers, supporters, and people cheering them on were hitting the fundraising blog in droves. Everywhere the family went, people would ask them about their cause. How did they grow such an eager following? It was simply by knowing how to speak to people, which can be harder than it sounds.
When I joined the fundraiser, Our Beards for Hope, and began growing a beard to help Dave Obwald and his family bring their adopted daughter home from China, I had hoped my beard would give me a more regal appearance—that I might feel more kingly. I envisioned meeting bearded lawyers or doctors I could now identify with, and we would embrace like brothers. As it turns out, my beard is a little too scraggly to be considered kingly.
This morning, I drove by a homeless gentleman, and while admiring his luxuriant beard, I leaned forward in my car so I could better read his sign: “Veteran, homeless, need food, family hungry, hard times.” And the ever-important closer, “God bless.”
The message highlighted a habit we all fall into at times—a habit that limits our ability to connect with others and engage them in our cause. His message was entirely “Me, me, me.”
Churches and nonprofits tend to use this same approach in their communications:
This is the plight of this child.
We lost our grant.
We need volunteers.
While these are all honest and legitimate needs, it is the method of communication that often makes them ineffective. Like the man’s sign, our donor communications are often posed backwards—speaking from our perspective (or my perspective) instead of speaking to others about theirs.
I suspect this happens because this is the simplest way for people to communicate. It is easiest to think about and say things from your own perspective and about your own needs. It is harder to first consider the needs, positions, and goals of others, and then see how you fit into that framework. It takes intentionality, practice, and empathy.
Making Donor Relations A Relationship
I recently heard about a social experiment someone did with a homeless woman about communicating effectively. This social scientist had met her on the street and found out that on a good day, in 8-10 hours of sign-holding, she could make $20-$30 with a sign similar to the one I saw this morning, something all about “me.”
He asked this homeless woman if he could write her a new sign. She agreed, and in the next two hours, she made $40. She promptly left. If she had stayed the usual 8-10 hours, she could have conceivably made about $160 that day.
The new sign said, “If you only give once a month, please think of me next time.”
What was the difference? The new message was focused on others—the potential donors. The sign still asked for help, but the message was geared toward the concerns of the reader rather than the holder. He flipped the message, essentially saying, “I understand you can only give so much, but if you think of me a month from now, I will still be in need.”
Her new sign spoke to potential donors like real people and told them she understood them. She changed the conversation to be two-sided, not just about “me.”
When Dave reached out to encourage his beard-growers and attract new supporters for Our Beards of Hope, he focused on growing relationships with each Facebook post, text, or email. He spoke to me with content that was well-rounded, not one-dimensional. One day I would get a text thanking me for the growth I was putting in or asking for a picture for the blog showing how my beard was coming along. The next day we’d get an update on how the adoption process was proceeding. Dave shared specific needs or concerns about the next steps of adoption and how he was dealing with the process. He invited us in to support, encourage, learn, celebrate, and grow.
I wasn’t treated like a donor; I was led into a friendship. Each new form of communication offered the opportunity to define who I would be for the cause. Even a bulk email from Dave came across as a genuine message about something I shared a stake in.
Communicating Through Social Media
How did Dave accomplish this? Facebook and Twitter can sometimes feel like a faceless void, so how do you speak to people in an inviting way when the act of posting something online almost sets you up to talk at them?
In addition to focusing your communication outward, speaking inclusively to followers, a good rule to follow when posting or communicating in any social media setting is this: the characteristics of a good Facebook friend are the exact same qualities we look for in any friend.
We all want our friends to be well-rounded human beings. There’s a reason I describe my environmentalist friend from four years ago, who only ever talked about the tragedy of deforestation, as “my friend from four years ago” instead of calling him “my friend Dennis.” It’s the same reason no one downloads albums of a solo trombone playing one note for 57 minutes. That note gets old.
The kind of friends we keep close care about us; they share. They don’t talk at us; they talk to us in a genuine, multi-faceted, and inclusive way. Yes, they tell us about their thoughts, but they also share something funny now and then. They share something that bothers them not to simply vent, but because they believe you have something to offer. They ask questions because your input is valuable to them.
If you struggle with ways to change up your social media posting or monthly email, try creating a list that includes everything you’d value in a good friend, from a sense of humor to the way they encourage or challenge you. Take those characteristics and let them help you create a sort of menu of different kinds of posts or messages you can share. Each time you sit down to communicate, take out your menu and just pick one.
The key is to change it up. Let it be from you, and then it will be new. Give them more to see. If Dave had only ever used his opportunity to communicate with his followers to ask for donations, he might have received a few donations at the expense of losing relationships. If he had only posted adorable pictures of Aunna every day with no context for what was being accomplished for her, no sense of our progress as a team, and no reasons to keep moving forward, the opportunity that communication offers would have become an utterly bankrupt cuteness explosion.
The goal is to create a well-rounded campaign that reaches your followers on every level that human beings can be reached. Our goal in reaching out to potential donors is a relationship and not salesmanship. You have created a relationship with a donor (or future donor) based on a vision of changing something in the world together. So why would you distance them with a presentation instead of simply sharing the experience with them? You are not marketing to blank faces outside your organization in hopes of scoring a donation. You are reaching out to a friend, even if they never give.
Building a following isn’t a “like” on a Facebook page or a view on a video; it is a two-way conversation, a relationship, a network. So be sure to make your conversation reflect that, even when it is in bulk, the same as if you were just talking to a friend.
Up Next: Part 5
Growing a following is important, but how do you grow your leaders? Find out in Part 5.