One of the things I love about my work is seeing the sparkle in a client’s eyes when they talk about their work. I am thinking of one individual, in particular, who speaks with such passion about the connection she has with her donors. I can see that she derives real satisfaction from explaining the impact of a gift in ways that really gets through to the donor. The client I’m speaking of is a gifted fundraiser. She has intuition on her side. But that’s only part of it.
Talking so donors listen begins by listening, listening for what they value.
People give to advance the things they value. If a donor is looking to infuse his or her retirement years with purpose and meaning, a message about how a piece of medical equipment will reduce wait times will not resonate. The values are misaligned.
In the book The Realm of Rhetoric, Chaim Perelman (1912 – 1984), philosopher and rhetorician, identifies two kinds of values: concrete and abstract. Concrete values, simply put, refer to things that have physical form, like a home or a family. Abstract values refer to intangibles like love, relationship, health, freedom, purpose, solidarity. Abstract values, says Perelman, “serve more easily as a basis of critiques of society, and can be tied to a justification for change, to a revolutionary spirit.” Applied to the philanthropic sector, a concrete value would have to do with the thing we are raising funds for, an MRI, a concert hall, etc. They tend to be sector specific. Abstract values, generally transcend the sectors, but can be linked to them. Excellence, for example is not specifically about healthcare or the arts, but can be linked to both.
The point here is to a) listen to your donors to understand what they value, paying particular attention to their abstract values, b) look to your case for support to identify the values inherent in your cause. When you align the two, you have direction for a meaningful conversation. For example, to the donor who is looking to infuse his retirement years with purpose, a conversation about championing the cause will be more fruitful than a conversation about reducing wait times.
By mapping values together, you will have more meaningful donor conversations. Your donors will appreciate it. We all dread being cornered in a conversation with someone who drones on about something we have no interest in, right? You don’t want to be that fundraiser.
The value-mapping approach takes some work. At the very least, it involves interviews and focus groups with donors. At best, major donors provide anonymous feedback using a survey tool. The process then moves to a careful data and discourse (case) analysis. Then the mapping begins.
It baffles me when an organization spends considerable time and money to develop a mission, vision and values statement (that are often so bland they are meaningless), and then invests little to no resource to develop the all-important dialogues with donors.
As for the case, we are clearly moving away from the one-size-fits-all case. We are moving in the direction of a main case that can be tailored–using variable narratives that reflect the values of individual donors.