Fundraising trainer and consultant Fern Potter helps us step outside our circle of like-minded colleagues and see things from an external perspective.
I’m passionate about the arts. The people I work with are passionate about the arts. We all understand why the arts are so important. That’s why we work so hard to make sure the sector receives the support it needs.
But take a look outside our circle of like-minded colleagues and you’ll realise that we’re still not being effective in communicating about our work and its worth.
"Too often we rest on our laurels and succumb to what I’ve been calling over the past few years - the ‘L’Oreal syndrome’ – the ‘because we’re worth it’ mentality."
Too often we rest on our laurels and succumb to what I’ve been calling over the past few years - the ‘L’Oreal syndrome’ – the ‘because we’re worth it’ mentality. Because we’re worth it makes an assumption that it’s enough to simply argue that we are fantastic at what we do and that should be enough to lever funds. But it isn’t.
If we allow ‘because we’re worth it’ to permeate into our day to day work, we allow ourselves to become insular. We talk to our own kind and to hell with the others. And that is the start of the slippery slope to becoming irrelevant.
Being an arts organisation doesn’t mean we’re entitled to exist. ‘Because we’re worth it’ doesn’t cut the mustard – in fact it never did.
I have been shocked at how many organisations have not collected data on their work or kept information about their activities up to date – both in terms of their donors’ giving history or in terms of articulating meaningfully about the impact of what they do.
We need to get smarter about making our case and understanding the funder’s point of view.
Funders like trusts want evidence backed with stats. Capturing data is critical. Evaluating your work is essential. Stats backed by evidence are sexy and appeal to those hungry for analysis to back your assumptions. It moves us from being ‘fluff – nice to have’ to essential and worth paying for.
"Stats backed by evidence are sexy and appeal to those hungry for analysis to back your assumptions. It moves us from being ‘fluff – nice to have’ to essential and worth paying for."
But stats alone are a turn-off for individual donors. Evidence shows that people struggle to mix emotion with logic. We think we make our decisions based on facts and statistics but we don’t.
It’s our hearts that drive us. People are moved by stories that articulate impact. Tom Ahern said years ago "statistics can be surprisingly weak persuaders when you are trying to move people to give." Personal anecdotes give your messages colour and meaning.
But qualitative research helps you understand how change has been achieved. Individual stories, no matter how heart-rending, lack context without a solid grounding in figures.
So how can we satisfy all funders?
Go back, collect evidence – get metrics to support your outcomes but most importantly, become better storytellers. Articulating your impact through stories helps people imagine how their gift can make a difference. And start with why.
Simon Sinek, author of ‘Start with Why’ believes organisations should communicate their mission from the inside out – starting with why you exist before saying what you do. Why is where feelings like trust and loyalty are born. Why provides the journey about how your organisation and your work makes a difference.
In fact, most of us do the opposite and (in our ‘because we’re worth it’ mode) simply state what we do and, eventually (or maybe never) say why. But it’s the why that really makes the case for why you’re so important.
"'Why' pulls on our ‘gut feelings’ and appeals to our inner brains. It fires up emotion to believe in what we believe in."
Why pulls on our ‘gut feelings’ and appeals to our inner brains. It fires up emotion to believe in what we believe in.
Once we’ve gained trust, we need evidence - to convey how we do what we do. But to really convey our worth, we need to tell stories.
Here’s an example:
Jack, a young teenager with Asperger Syndrome, was a constant victim of bullying and ridicule to the point where he no longer ventured to school, let alone participated in any out-of-school activities. He was coaxed by his dad to take part in a media project run by a local arts organisation, Focal Point. Young people were asked to reflect their local Southend environs from their perspective using a mobile camera. The finished films were exhibited at the Focal Point Gallery and judged by a panel of experts. Jack won first prize. So motivated was he by this experience, his confidence blossomed and went on to set up and run a media club at his High School. He then devised and raised funds for a second Focal Point project, and went on to study film at his local college. Jack is now working professionally as a filmmaker… all down to the opportunity he was provided by Focal Point.
This story told a single powerful tale about Focal Point’s outreach activities and how it impacted one person’s life. It was far more engaging than rattling off a list of stats. Like a spear, the data had just one point.
Research by Stanford Business’ Center for Social Innovation found that sympathy and giving are often ‘irrational’. Feelings drive donations not analytical thinking. And interestingly, it is far more effective to tell a single story rather than trying to communicate about more general activities.
"Feelings drive donations not analytical thinking."
The Center found time and again, that if organisations want to raise money, they must appeal to the heart rather than the head.
And here in the UK, a number of studies concur with this idea – philanthropists are more apt to respond to specific needs and are more inclined to give if they know their donations will help to problem-solve rather than just giving without an explanation of how the money will be used or spent.
Analogies are like honey and help people imagine what your messages are trying to articulate. They hook people in and enhance comprehension.
"Analogies spice up your stories and help people remember."
Analogies spice up your stories and help people remember. We all enjoy stories but if you want the greatest recall long after your story has been told, use analogies.
I understand that collecting data and figuring out how to articulate your message for different funders is not easy. Think of it like going to the gym for the first time – you have to be forced to do it, but once you get into the habit and see the benefits, you’ll realise just how great the results can be.
Keep a file of accolades, create your stories, back your information with stats and use that sticky ingredient to connect your communication - analogies.
You are not the target market
And remember – you are not the target market. Think externally about your organisation’s impact and users. Who are you telling your stories to? How do you know you make an impact? How do you convey your importance to others?
If you consider your worth from the funders’ point of view, you will avoid the ‘L’Oreal Syndrome’. Success is when others say why you’re worth it and why you should be supported.