Donor development expert Dale Berkey sent me this note about why organizations may have trouble getting their message understood to their audience, congregation, or donors. Your official “mission statement” or “vision statement” isn’t nearly as important as “unofficial” message that’s communicated to donors through your financial appeals. Here’s Dale’s suggestions:
1. Your message needs to be a single, simple thought. Many Christian organizations have a bunch of stuff to say, and they say most or all of it in every communication to their donors. The busy donor can’t focus: What do you want me to DO? she asks silently, poised over the garbage can as she reads her mail.
2. Your message needs to be something you can live with for a long time, because you will need to communicate it frequently. Donors are busy and distracted: they have grandkids tearing up the house, they have supper to cook, and what’s this funny little pain in my shoulder? The donor’s life is not a stagnant pond, where your appeal or email drops like a rock to make enormous, beautiful ripples — it’s a raging, chaotic river, where your appeal hardly makes a blup! on the surface before it disappears. So we have to ask often, and repeat our message endlessly.
3. Your message must be expressed in the regular, everyday language the donor understands. If we communicate in cool, corporate terms, the distracted donor doesn’t hear anything that makes her heart go thump and inspires her to stop a moment and consider the appeal.
4. Your message must count to the donor. This is the toughest nut to crack. Your ministry operation is fascinating to you, but not to the donor. Figure out a connection to the donor — something that is truly about the ministry, but also somehow about the donor: Here’s what you can do. Here’s the way you will benefit. Here’s how you will be different as a result of responding. Here’s how you will truly make an impact.
As Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:29, say “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Translation: Your message — which must compete with thousands of other matters intruding on the donor’s attention — must not only be repeated constantly, in terms donors understand, but in ways that make it count for them.