Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Inspire Passion

The American Bible Society (ABS) is nearly 200 years old. Many years ago, when I first began helping them with their fundraising efforts, which by their own admission had become increasingly ineffective, they made a peculiar statement. They said, “Frankly, Todd, we all feel like ABS peaked in the sixties.”

My quick reply was, “Please explain what you mean when you say that ABS peaked in the sixties.” The good folks answered, “Well, the President of the United States at the time was a major financial contributor, and both the previous and current Attorney Generals of the United States were members of the Board of Directors for ABS.”

In admiration my next words were, “You mean John F. Kennedy was a major donor to the American Bible Society?” “No, Todd. We are not talking about the 1960s—we mean the 1860s…Lincoln! Abraham Lincoln was a major donor to ABS.”

Most organizations I begin working with realize they have issues that stunt growth, and they desperately want to change for the better. However, this new client truly believes it peaked over 140 years ago. Actually, it was humorous at the time and still is today whenever I tell the story. However, reminiscing about “four score and seven years ago” made me realize that I had my work cut out for me.

During the evaluation process of their marketing and communication materials, I noticed something profoundly wrong. ABS focused primarily on themselves and not on what is most important to donors. The fact became even more evident in conversations with staff. The staff proudly claimed that they had been a publisher and distributor of God’s Word for nearly two hundred years. These statements may sound impressive, but in the end they will not win the hearts of donors. Is your spirit moved to give to a publisher or distributor? I didn’t think so.

When we asked donors why they gave to ABS, they simply stated, “We give to the American Bible Society because they are a ministry.” Donors spoke about what the Bible had done for them personally, how reading and applying its wisdom to their lives had made them better people—“The Bible has transformed my life and that’s what I want to give to another person.”

Can you see how the staff’s vision for what they want to accomplish is much smaller than their donors’? The staff views their work as a publisher/distributor while their donors are changing lives for all eternity.

This may sound like subtle differences in communication, but in the “heart-reaching business,” they’re a million miles apart.
Is the American Bible Society an anomaly? No. Essentially, every charity I’ve ever worked with has this same problem: They are so focused on their own efforts that they do not effectively communicate the impact of those efforts to donors. They do not realize that “changing lives” is what motivates donors to give.
Donors are so far ahead of us fundraisers. Think about it . . . donors know exactly why they give their money. We’re the ones chasing them, trying to figure out what motivates them to give of their time, talent, influence, resources, and money. Will we ever collectively figure it out?

David Lawson, a fundraising consultant, recently enlightened our industry with the knowledge that by 2005, financial institutions will be collecting over $300 billion in management fees alone. These fees represent only 1% of the $30 trillion in assets being managed. For comparison, last year contributions in the United States totaled $212 billion. Lawson’s observation tells us at least one thing—that people have the capacity to donate more, so why don’t they?

Baker's Theory
It is my belief that the reason people do not give more money to charity is because they are not inspired.

For-profit companies spend billions of dollars to inspire people to see a movie, buy a particular car or shoe and, believe it or not, even cat food.

You know what? It’s working—people are throwing their money at this stuff, and a lot more. If you’ve ever been to a professional sporting event you’ll witness inspired people . . . people with passion . . . with a sense of belonging.
We are collectively failing to inspire donors because what and how we communicate tends to be all about us . . . our efforts . . . our good deeds—while the most inspiring thing we can say is being left unspoken.
Just as in the case of ABS, in order to inspire donors we must first align our separate visions—to see the work as they do . . . bigger and deeper. Then refocus our communication from our own activities, such as shipping, training, preserving, distributing, and coordinating and begin to remind the donors of the lives we’re saving and changing together.

Together we must help our fellow champions of philanthropy to change how they present their worthwhile causes—to focus more on the impact of their efforts for that will win the hearts of donors.
If we can collectively make this small but innovative change in our approach to fundraising and communication, more people will become inspired to give, thus there will be more money for charity. As a result, more people will be helped, making the world a better place.
Can it be that simple? Can this ideal direction provide the insight and motivation to improve the quality of life for all? Call me a dreamer, but I believe it will do just that . . .

Goodbye for now, fellow champion!

The Possible's slow fuse is lit by the Imagination.
Emily Dickinson

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