Artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and other tech tools are emerging to (supposedly) make our lives easier. But at what cost? So many of our interactions occur over a digital channel that it can be easy to forget there is an actual person on the other end. Being human in our communications is what makes the difference to our donors.
In this episode of the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast, we’re talking about why humanity trumps everything else in fundraising. Our special guests are Tim Kachuriak, Founder and Chief Innovation and Optimization Officer at NextAfter, and Whitney Norman, Vice President of Client Solutions at Pursuant.
What We Say Matters
Tim and his team at NextAfter conduct a lot of research around donor experiences and are constantly testing and experimenting to see how they can move the needle on giving. He says their most significant finding is the more we can humanize our communications between our organization and our donors, the more effective we’ll be in fundraising.
People give to people. They don’t give to websites, emails, or direct mail campaigns. They give to people.
In our planning sessions and committee meetings, it’s easy to let our words get in the way of our humanity. Common phrases like “target these donors” and “acquire them” turn supporters into abstract concepts. We no longer think of them as an actual living, breathing, complex, emotional human being.
We must change the words we use. Giving your time, talent, money, and advocacy — these are the things that make us human. It’s about being part of something greater than ourselves and impacting our communities. As fundraisers, we should remember as we prep communications to our donor base — that we have the opportunity and responsibility to connect donors with the change they want to make in the world.
If you can demonstrate that you understand the human behind the data point, you’ll drive generosity and loyalty from your supporters. This one point impacts every aspect of your communication, beginning with the salutation you use. Younger donors might prefer a less-formal greeting, such as their first name. However, for older audiences, a salutation of “Mr.” or “Mrs.” or “Dr.” is a sign of respect.
Things like this might seem small to you, but they’re very personal for your donors. So, do your research, segment your donor lists by age, and tailor your communications accordingly.
How We Say It Matters, Too
So many marketing messages — emails specifically — are over-designed. Copy, images, graphic elements, pull-out quotes, and buttons all compete for attention. And with the string of email service providers serving up ready-to-go templates full of dynamic elements, these cluttered emails are landing in inboxes everywhere. And what do the readers see? Someone trying to market to them.
Here's what we know: people don’t want to be marketed to; they want to be communicated with. Fundraising happens as the result of a relationship between two people.
So, Tim and his team tested a bare-bones version of an email appeal. No flashy pictures or graphics, just a simple letter format written from one friend to another. As a result, clients saw 200, 300, 400, and even 500% increases in donations.
Similarly, expensive, highly produced videos are being dropped for more raw and transparent ones. Pick up your phone and record a quick video talking about the impact your donors are making or thanking someone for their gift. The one-on-one human connection is much more relatable and inspires more engagement.
Or, let your constituents have the pen. Whitney shares a client campaign that encouraged a nonprofit’s service recipients to take a selfie and submit a one-word hashtag of how they felt upon benefiting from this organization. Not only were there thousands of submissions, which gave it a “viral” component, but it showed the organization how its supporters see themselves in the mission. The language and words they used were much more compelling than what you might capture from a professional copywriter, and it resonated with the audience in a more meaningful way.
Is Chat GPT the Answer?
Not necessarily. It’s an idea-starter, a great brainstorming tool. But for now, at least, it won’t replace that innate warmth that a human can bring to a story or an appeal.
Instead, keep learning about who your donors are, what motivates them, and what they care about. Then, find opportunities to engage them in a personally meaningful way.
Listen to the full episode:
Connect with Whitney Norman
Connect with Tim Kachuriak
Learn more about NextAfter
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