Early in my career I received a piece of fundraising advice that has stuck with me to this day:
People are all people.
And what do you do with people if you want to build a relationship?
You get PERSONAL!
In fact, if I had to tell you how to win over donors with just one word, “personal” is the word I’d choose.
This word should become your mantra and underscore everything you do. Your annual appeal writing. Your special events. Your newsletters. Your blog posts. Your proposals. Your reports. Your social media.
If you take just this one word to heart — PERSONAL — you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.
This is the one word that can set you apart.
That can help you build relationships like nothing else.
Though we talk a lot about empathy and donor-centricity, truly valuable tools in building donor relationships, these terms are subsumed by the umbrella of the ‘person’ to whom they apply.
Today I’d like to flesh out the multiple meanings of this word, and discuss how getting personal can help you achieve your nonprofit fundraising and marketing goals.
This is something that has always mattered. Today, in an era of social distancing and striving for greater diversity, equity and inclusion, how we get personal and how we define people are more important than ever.
4 Ways to Get Up Close and Personal — and Boost Your Nonprofit’s Success
1. PERSONAL is how you relate to and treat people.
Specifically, this means how you relate in a manner that is different from everyone else. So the person to whom you’re relating trusts you and understands “You are the best person to give me this advice.”
It’s important to look behind the curtain. If Doroty had done this, she’d have realized the Wizard of Oz was just a person; one with needs, hopes and fears like everyone else. We have a tendency to avoid getting too close to folks, especially if we perceive them as rich, powerful, famous or somehow superior to us. We may fear them. We may assume they don’t want to be bothered. We may think we’re being polite by calling them by their formal titles, when 95% of the time I’ve found we’re simply trying to avoid a relationship.
In my experience folks want to be known as people, not as labels (and this includes the label of ‘donor.’) They want to be known as particular individuals, not as a member of a class. As one marketing specialist notes in The Pros and Cons of Personalized Marketing: “Names are the most integral and fundamental part of our identity, so when someone addresses me by my first name, I feel more like an individual and less like just a face in the crowd.” The goal is not to simply conduct polite transactions but to build strong, loyal friendships.
Underneath the trappings, we’re all people. Wizards and titans of industry included. Even businesses and foundations are people. Wealthy. Poor. Old. Young. Black. White. Fat. Thin. Tall. Short. Treat everyone like people. Don’t put them at arms length just because they may be different from you. Don’t be afraid of their status or size. Find a way to connect. And don’t forget they aren’t stereotypes; no one is the same. That’s the beauty of being human. Just be human.
Philanthropy means “love of humankind.”
2. PERSONAL is how you understand and express your unique self.
Specifically, this means bringing yourself into your work in the most authentic way possible. So you understand “My personal strength lies in this area.”
Know your strengths; play to them. Because if you aren’t putting your best, most authentic self into the relationship then it’s not really going to become a relationship. It will simply be a transaction. Transactions end. Relationships bloom. There are many different ways to assess your own strengths. Here are a few.
Making a good first impression is critical. it’s difficult to pull off without following Shakespeare’s advice: “To thine own self be true.” If you know your own strengths and weaknesses you can work in a manner that puts your best foot forward. For example, I’ve known major gifts officers who were super charming and charismatic in person, but who could not write their way out of a paper bag. If that’s you, stick to the phone and in-person meetings as much as possible to build initial rapport. If you’re sending an important letter or email, have someone proofread it on your behalf. The reverse is also true. I oversaw another major gifts officer who wrote the most compelling emails you’d ever want to see. Inspiring, almost to the point of tears. In person, however, he could be a bit awkward. So it was better for him to get the visit and begin to build the relationship using his formidable writing skills. Once positive first personal impressions are made, folks will tend to be a lot more forgiving.
3. PERSONAL is what you do yourself without the use of an intermediary.
Specifically, this means knowing when you must tell yourself “I will see to this personally.”
You can’t delegate the process of building a relationship. This is the part of ‘personal’ that is too often given short shrift. Boards and executives put the development staff in a corner, admonishing them to “go raise money.” This can be accomplished to an extent. But there are limits. Your prospective donor may only want to talk to the head honcho. If you are that VIP person, and you can’t take the personal time to initiate and build the relationship, don’t be surprised when your prospect finds they can’t take that time either. Personal is a two-way street.
If you’re not the head honcho, you can still use this aspect of ‘personal’ to make a difference. Have you ever spoken on the phone with a customer service representative who, instead of passing you along to another person, let you know they would get back to you personally? Wasn’t it a refreshing relief? Didn’t it make you feel positive about that company? Just using the word “personally” in your conversations with folks packs a punch.
4. PERSONAL is when, where, why and who you engage with because what you have to offer is something that matters to them.
“It all comes back to helping others. If you spent 100 percent of your waking hours thinking about how you can help absolutely everyone you come in contact with — from the woman who makes your latte, to the top authority in your industry — you will find everything else tends to take care of itself. The world will suddenly be in your corner.”
— Scott Dinsmore, Founder, Live Your Legend
In a Forbes article called The 7 Pillars of Connecting with Absolutely Anyone, Scott Dinsmore explains: “Personal relationships run the world.” He lists seven simple ways to build strong connections with others. I encourage you to read the full article; in a nutshell, these are the pillars:
1.) Be genuine. Don’t automate robotically. Don’t let tools overshadow people. Put some thought into your messages and recognize your recipients are real people, just like you.
2.) Be helpful. Remember your personal mission as a philanthropy facilitator is to build a relationship. That means understanding what’s in it for your particular constituent.
3.) Be attentive. Plan. Do research. Ask questions. Listen. You can’t deliver resonant messages if you don’t pay attention to what people most care about.
4.) Connect with people close to your constituents. The gatekeepers hold a lot of sway. Peers can have a lot of influence. Do your research. This is what network building is all about. Mentioning a mutual connection will help you establish more credibility and trust.
5.) Be persistent. This is another way of saying, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. If reaching out via one channel failed, try another. If your prospect likes to connect on Twitter, and you’re using email, then you’re not being personal.
6.) Make real friends. Forget the old adage: “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” Make your business personal. Get to know folks. Have a conversation. Show you’re a thoughtful, caring person. Or as social marketing strategiest Ted Rubin remarks: “people first, business second. Without the people there is no business.
7.) Remain unforgettable. Help folks in ways that will change their lives. Inspire them. Cheer them up. Bring the joy and purpose people yearn for. Make them love you and your organization so they’ll want to become a loyalist.
Find a way to get up close and PERSONAL with at least one important donor prospect this week. You’ll find it rewarding. People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Go make your own luck!
Getting Personal is a Key to Donor Retention. Want More Tips?
Grab my Donor Retention and Gratitude Playbook. It’s an easy, step-by-step, six-volume journey where you’ll learn how to make a great first impression — and then a terrific second, third and fourth impression — by thanking, praising and engaging with your donors in a manner that makes them want to stay loyal to you.
As with all Clairification products, if you’re unhappy for any reason I offer a 30-day, no-questions-asked, 100% refund guarantee. No worries.
Image: My photo of Kristina Mays ‘Rich Soil’ sculpture exhibit, breathing life into wire, at Filoli, Woodside California, 2020.