Last month (January 24, 1011), I blogged about the role sincerity should play in fundraising and philanthropy – yet how the word sincerity is one we rarely use when we talk to each other.

Now, I’d like to shift from why sincerity is important to the question of how to go about being sincere in your donor communications.

First though, let’s try to define exactly what we mean by the word sincere. To me, the notion of sincerity has two important elements:

  1. something is sincere if it is absolutely truthful, AND
  2. if what’s said is done so without any guile, manipulation or spin.

Let me give you an example:

Many years ago, I was driving aimlessly through Tennessee. I ended up in Memphis and couldn’t resist a visit to Graceland (even though I’ve NEVER been an Elvis fan!). We were touring the Elvis Museum and the tour guide was pointing out Elvis’ various onstage outfits.

Being the smarty-pants that I am, I asked her (in front of a group of about 20 diehard fans) “Just how much did Elvis weigh when he died?”

She replied “Many people are surprised to learn that Elvis was actually quite a tall man. He stood six feet and three quarters of an inch tall.”

Was she truthful? Absolutely.

Was she being sincere? No way.

I’m convinced that donors today are savvy, sophisticated and wary. They’re sick of the tricks of the trade – they know B.S. when they hear it – and they just want the straight goods. So how can you be sincere with your donors in a way that will build trust and loyalty? (BTW, loyalty is the Holy Grail that leads to huge revenue growth.)

Here are five thoughts/ideas to help you get started on your own sincerity program:

  • Try never to speak with the institution’s voice – because in truth, the institution doesn’t actually have a voice. Your messages should be from real people (your leaders) to real people (your donors). It’s all about human connections isn’t it?
  • Your spokesperson or ambassador should show all three of her dimensions. She should speak with her head, her heart and her soul. This means that she must open up and show some of her real self. I can tell you right now that your donors will love this – but the people you’re asking to speak this way will resist you (at least in the beginning).
  • Pay particular attention to how you say thanks to your donors. I recently received a thank you letter from the CEO of one of Canada’s biggest health charities. The first sentence started “Please accept my heartfelt thanks…” Guess what? It backfired. Rather than making me feel connected, I felt like I was being patronized. The thank you didn’t go far enough or deep enough.
  • Admit your flaws. Go ahead! Tell your donors that you’re not perfect. Tell them immediately when you screw up and make mistakes. Tell them when you’re struggling. I forced myself to take this approach early on in my fundraising career – and it’s always paid big dividends. People appreciate honesty – and the expression of a sincere desire to fix mistakes and do better next time. (Thanks for the lesson mom!)
  • Always start with WHY. The WHY questions are the ones that matter most. Why does your organization do the work it does? Why do your board members volunteer? Why should donors give to you – and not the other 160,000 organizations in Canada who also want their attention and money? Answering the WHY questions well always gets to the heart of the matter. That’s why it’s the perennial favourite question of every two and three year old I’ve ever met!

So there’s my handy-dandy sincerity tool-kit. I invite you to give it a go – and please let me know how it goes!