What We Have Got Here is a Failure to Differentiate

communicate

With apologies to the famous line from Cool Hand Luke, I’d like to talk about differentiation.

Savvy Fundraisers are constantly differentiating as they create an organization’s fundraising.

As you create your organization’s fundraising in 2022, you’ll raise more money and keep more of your donors if you differentiate each piece of fundraising based on:

  • How you’re communicating with your audience
  • Who you’re communicating to
  • What you’re trying to achieve

Let’s look at each…

HOW You’re Communicating

How you communicate with a donor (or potential donor) affects what you can say and how you can say it.

Everyone knows that what you’d say in a long lunch with a donor is different than what you’d say in a two-page direct mail letter.

How you’re communicating in those two contexts is completely different.

But let’s take that even farther: what you’d say in a grant application is different than what you’d say in a two-page direct mail letter.

Even though both are examples of written communication, they are clearly different.  Grant applications are more likely to be pored over, while direct mail letters are more likely to be scanned.

Therefore, a grant application should be written entirely differently than a direct mail letter. 

The form that the communication takes place in should affect what you say and how you say it.

WHO You’re Communicating To

Everyone knows that you would say different things to a person who has a Ph.D. in whatever your organization does, than you would say to a person who knows next to nothing about your field.

We all know that we’d say different things to an involved Major Donor than we would to a person who has made their very first gift.

Who you are talking to should affect what you say and how you say it.

WHAT You’re Trying To Achieve

Everyone knows that you would say different things to a person depending on what you’re trying to achieve.

If you want to ask someone for a favor, you’d say different things than if you were praising them for a job well done.

What you’re hoping to achieve with a piece of communication should affect what you say and how you say it.

What To Look Out For

When I review pieces of fundraising that didn’t work well, I almost always spot a lack of differentiation:

  • The How: a direct mail letter that sounds like a grant application
  • The Who: a newsletter that was written assuming that audience is made up of Ph.D.’s
  • The What: a Thank You email that thanks me for my first gift to an organization and then (in the second paragraph!) asks me to give more and join a high-priced giving circle.

This failure to differentiate costs nonprofits millions of dollars a year.

The causes are pretty simple.  There are inexperienced fundraisers and organizations.  They just don’t know, and you can’t hold it against them because everyone was inexperienced at one point.

And there are people who prefer a specific type or style of communication and refuse to differentiate, using that type or style regardless of context. 

This post is an attempt to help both groups see how they are causing their organization to engage their donors less, and to raise less money.

Does Your Organization Need to Differentiate?

The more you can differentiate, the more money you’ll raise.

For organizations that need to differentiate, one question should become forbidden for anyone to ask.  That question is, “Do we like this piece of fundraising?”

Because liking a piece of fundraising is usually a function of it being the type or style that’s preferred – and isn’t an indication of whether it will work well, or not.

And then one question becomes mandatory – “What would work best in this situation?”

This leads to specific questions like:

  • Who is this piece talking to, and what do they know?
  • What form of communication are we using, and how should that effect what we’re saying?
  • What’s the purpose of this particular piece of communication, and is everything in it working to achieve that one purpose?

Ask questions that help you differentiate, and you’ll create fundraising that engages your donors and raises more money.

Your internal audiences might not prefer your new fundraising as much. But your fundraising should be judged more on how much it raises as opposed to whether internal audiences prefer it. 

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