Replace Third Person Anonymous with First Person Singular

February 25, 2014

One of the first lessons we’re taught as fundraisers is that “people give to people.” After more than 25 years in the fundraising world, I’m more convinced than ever that this is true.

As a donor, I obviously give to help people in need. I might give to the United Way to help the homeless or my local food bank to feed hungry children. But to me, “people give to people” goes further than that.

Stop and think for a minute about the people you’ve given to in the last year. The co-worker who grew a moustache in November to raise funds for prostate cancer. The little girl down the street who asked you to sponsor her for “Jump Rope for Heart” at school. Your sister-in-law who got you to sponsor her for the breast cancer run.

You gave because of who asked you. You gave because of the relationships you have with these people.

Don’t waste opportunities to connect personally with donors

Just about every piece of communication you put out there is an opportunity for your constituents to make a real human connection with another living, breathing person. Another heart. Another soul.

Yet most charities waste this opportunity far more often than they seize it. Instead of having their stories and messages come from someone real, they write it from the institution. This is what I call third person anonymous.

Four easy checks

You can give your organization a quick self-test by grabbing four communications pieces and analyzing them for personal content. For example:

  1. Look at your website’s home page. What percentage of the copy on that page is from someone? That someone could be your CEO, a board member, a volunteer or donor, a client or an expert who testifies to the great work you do.
  2. Now flip through a copy of your most recent annual report. Ask the same question. How much of that report’s content consists of messages from real people associated with your organization?
  3. Third, pick up the most recent issue of your organization’s newsletter. How many of the articles are actually by someone? Do the articles by real people include their photos? Do those photos connect with your mission? Or are they just the old head and shoulders mug shot? Do the people whose names appear on the articles talk about why they care? They should!
  4. Finally, take a look at the thank-you letters you’re sending out with your tax receipts. Do they really thank well? Or do they sound like everyone else’s: “thanks for the money – here’s your receipt – please switch to monthly.” Those letters are lazy – and donors know it. How about having the person who’s signing those letters actually talk about how she feels to see that money come in the door? How it feels to know how that money will better the human condition? How blessed she feels to know that people out there are so kind and giving?

These are just four examples – but I hope you get my drift.

Every single piece of communication you send out is a wonderful opportunity to have people connect with you in a true human way – and to deepen their commitment to – and passion for – your cause.

Good luck – and great connecting!

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Jose Van Herpt, CFRE

Jose Van Herpt, CFRE

Fundraiser. Artist. Nature lover. Peacemaker. Experience junkie. Traveler. Philanthropist. Book enthusiast. Mom to all.