Have you hit anyone up this week? Have you twisted arms? Have you called in the big guns to help you lean on your best targets?
Do those words make you cringe?
I sure hope so. Because if they don’t, then you’ve got some serious work to do to reshape the way you think about fundraising.
Constructive Language Encourages Giving
When done right, fundraising encourages and fuels a passion to help and to give in both the solicitor and the donor. But words like the ones above, which evoke force and violence, disrespect the essence of the exchange.
Last week I got an email from a friend saying, “I’d like to hit you up for a donation to my cause.”
Hit me up? That immediately soured my inclination to give.
I’m sure that if I were to tell my friend that his language turned me off, he’d tell me that of course he didn’t really want to “hit me up.” It was just a common turn of phrase.
He’s right. My friend’s language is all too common!
Fundraising language that sets a disrespectful tone is rampant. You hear it among board members and volunteers and staff members of all kinds.
The Words You Use Predispose Your Donors
The way we talk about fundraising shapes the way we think about and approach donors. Our language creates a mindset that, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, shifts donor conversations.
The research is clear. Words and metaphors predispose the way people behave. In his new book, Pre-Suasion, Robert Cialdini documents the power of pre-cursor experiences to shape outcomes. “The best persuaders,” he writes, “arrange for recipients to be receptive to the message before they encounter it.”
It’s no wonder that so many donors are hesitant to meet with solicitors when the way we think about asking is loaded with words of pressure and force.
It’s not surprising that board members don’t want to twist their friends’ arms and get them to give ‘til it hurts.
It’s time we adopt a positive language of fundraising that reflects the remarkable nature of the philanthropic exchange. There’s too much at stake to continue acting as if the language of “hitting people up” is okay.
How to Create a Fundraising Language Based on Shared Values
You probably find it difficult to correct people when they use negative fundraising language. The natural response is to wink and nod, and let the offending phrase or word go without a comment.
To solve the problem of negative fundraising language, you’ve got to address it at a higher level. You must develop a shared understanding of the core values that underlie great fundraising.
Start with your fundraising staff and development committee. Hold a meeting specifically to discuss the values you want to use in all of your fundraising work.
They might include statements like these:
- Every aspect of our work should be evaluated on how well it supports our effective contact with donors.
- We will work together as a team to improve the donor experience in all things we do.
- We will honor the complete donor, not just his or her money.
- We will remember that even though our goals are often expressed in financial terms, our real job is to help donors accomplish meaningful things with their resources.
- We will keep in mind that fundraising is serious business, not because it is about money, but because it changes lives.
- We will take care to use language that respects our donors and the process of asking for gifts.
Then, share and discuss the values of your development committee at a board meeting.
Bring Out the Best in Everyone
If people at every level of your organizations understand and embrace the right values, the hit ‘em up, twist-their-arms language will be replaced by words and phrases that respect donors and do justice to the field — words like:
You’ll use words like “inspire” and “motivate” donors to “make a difference” rather than “targeting” and “pushing” them to fill your coffers.
Creating a fundraising culture based on a set of understood and accepted values is not a simple task. But structuring conversations about fundraising values will be a giant step forward in creating a constructive, shared language of fundraising. That will help bring out the best in everyone.