How To Pick Your Perfect Signatory

May 2, 2016

I’m amazed at the number of organizations I talk to who have only ever sent out appeals signed by their Executive Director or CEO. And, when I question why that’s being done, they’re not really sure. It’s just always the way it’s been done, so they continue to do it.

Usually, they haven’t really thought through whether that person is the right signatory for the appeal. Sometimes they are. But often, the story you want to tell can be much better told by someone else.

If you’re sending out a letter asking loyal donors to consider leaving a bequest, does it make sense to have the letter signed by an Executive Director who hasn’t left a bequest? Perhaps the story should be told, and the letter signed, by a fellow loyal donor who has already made that commitment. They can talk about why they are passionate about the cause, what led them to make a bequest decision, and what they hope their gift will accomplish.

Are you trying to raise money to purchase medical equipment? The best signatory might be your Executive Director – or maybe it’s the patient whose prognosis is going to improve because of the latest developments in medical technology.

Start with the story and the signatory will follow.

Remember that stories aren’t always traditional. Have you told the story of the founding of your organization? It was no doubt founded from a place of deep personal passion. If you can’t track down your founder, seek out a descendant. Or simply talk to the person who’s been around the longest and have them relate the story they know about the history of your organization. Have that person sign the appeal.

What are your impact stories (which are sometimes the most powerful stories of all)? Talk to beneficiaries about the difference that your organization has made in their lives. Talk to the researcher who can help you connect donor dollars to a breakthrough medical treatment. Tell their stories, and have them sign your appeals.

The best signatory might not even be a human.

At the end of the day, some organizations truly do have challenges in telling their stories. Perhaps it’s a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence, or an organization dealing with very young children, or a cause that is one step removed from having people as beneficiaries (think environmental groups, or a group focused on restoring an old library).

In these situations, you can get really creative. For a crisis phone line, tell the story of a telephone. What did that telephone hear today? How did a young person get help through that phone? For a client that’s a woman’s shelter, we’ve been sending out an appeal letter signed by the dining room table. The table is a gathering spot of emotional support and has so many stories to tell. Are you a hospital foundation? What about telling the story of a pacemaker, or a stretcher? Are you restoring an old library? The front door is bound to have an amazing story of the people he or she has seen walking through the doors.

Start matching the story you want to tell, to the signatory who can best tell it. You will start better engaging with your donors and raising more money.


This post was written by Leah Eustace, ACFRE, former Principal and Chief Idea Goddess at Good Works. 

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