They can lead to bigger things ... or nowhere. You decide.
Jynelle Herbert, Development Communications Officer at the Children's Hospital Trust in Boston, wrote to ask my opinion re: running donor profiles in newsletters and such.
"Do donors want to hear stories about others who give," her email wondered, "or do they just want to know how their support helps sick kids? We discussed this in the cab after your seminar." I'd spoken before a lunch meeting of Greater Boston's Women in Development. "We both came away with conflicting thoughts."
Donor profiles can range from pointless to shockingly worthwhile.
The (perhaps) pointless end of the range (in my view) is doing donor profiles for no better reason than to shovel flattery atop a single person or couple.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for shoveling flattery at donors. That is an excellent idea, psychologists would readily agree. Flattery pleases people even when they overtly reject it.
The problem is, space in a donor newsletter is precious. Spending it on flattering one person is wasteful; there are better ways to flatter an individual.
I also worry that singling out an individual simply for flattery could alienate other readers, who wonder, "Why aren't they profiling me?"
You're at the worthwhile end of the range when your donor profiles are meaningful to other donors and can lead somewhere. Then donor profiles become opportunities.
Let me pause to remind you: "opportunities for donors to participate in meaningful activities" is one of the four cardinal ingredients of successful donor communications ... the others being (2) "reporting on accomplishments," (3) "establishing deep and lasting trust," and (4) an embarrassing case of "donor love."
A community foundation in a socially conservative part of the U.S. recently issued a brochure that featured a half-dozen donors who had made bequests and thereby joined the foundation's legacy society.
Of the donor profiles, half were of people single or widowed. Two were of married heterosexual couples. One was of a gay male couple.
Research shows that couples without children are more likely to leave a charitable bequest than couples with children.
Tony and Tim don't have kids. They'd wanted to set up a private charitable foundation. Their attorney told them that the local community foundation could offer the same services at lower cost. They took his advice.
They began attending shindigs for the foundation's legacy society. And they became ambassadors. This year, Tony and Tim took it upon themselves to throw an informational party where their friends, including other gay couples, came to learn about the foundation.
Now, that's a profile that worked: it led somewhere.
>>> Takeaway>>> Lesson learned? Think strategically in your communications. If you're attempting to cultivate a target audience, such as childless couples, then show examples of other childless couples -- peers -- who are already amongst your donors. It's a matter of trust: peers trust peers most easily. What's an automatic peer? Someone with the same life.
Postscript: Jynelle attended my workshop entitled, "The Do-It-Yourself Donor Communications Audit." Then she did the most wonderful thing. She got together with other Boston-area development professionals who'd been at the workshop, and together they did a group self-audit. It's so much more fun that way!
Tom Ahern can be found at www.aherncomm.com