Wendy Dyer recently joined us for a webinar in which she explored the importance of emotions in fundraising, among the growing movement of “effective altruism,” which encourages funding decisions based solely on intellect.

She also delved into the importance of “relatability” – how donors have to be able to relate to the issue in order to be motivated to give, as well as how to “tenderize” your message for the greatest effect.

In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Wendy. My watch just struck 1:00. Do you want to go ahead and get started officially?

Wendy: Sure.

Steven: All right. Well, welcome, everyone. Good afternoon if you’re on the East Coast and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for joining us for today’s webinar, “Finding Your Sizzle: The Importance of Emotions in Fundraising.” My name is Steven Shattuck. I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.

Before we get started, I want to go over a couple of housekeeping items. I want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation. I’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides a little later on this afternoon. So, be on the lookout for those. If you have to perhaps leave early or you want to review the content later on, you’ll be able to do that. Do not fear. You’ll be getting all these great resources later on today.

As you’re listening today, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to save some time for Q&A at the end. Don’t be shy about sending in questions and comments our way. We’ll be able to see those throughout the presentation and we’ll try to answer just as many as we can before the 2:00 Eastern hour.

Wendy: Especially like the, “Please explain that a little bit more . . .” while we’re going, that would be helpful.

Steven: Absolutely. We don’t mind doing that at all. Wendy would love to make this as interactive as possible. So, don’t be shy. Don’t sit on those hands. Follow along on Twitter. You can use the hashtag, #Bloomerang. You can also use the hashtag — what was it going to be, Wendy? What was your sizzle hashtag?

Wendy: #FindYourSizzle.

Steven: #FindYourSizzle, I’m going to type that so everyone has that as well. We’d love to keep the conversation going on Twitter as well. So, don’t be shy about that. If you’re listening today through your computer, if you have any trouble with the audio, feel free to try the phone. If you can use your phone for audio, that’s usually a little bit better. So, if you have any trouble with the audio, try the phone. It’s usually a bit better quality, for sure.

In case this is your first webinar with us, welcome. We’re so glad you’re here. We do these webinars just about every Thursday or so. We occasionally have a Wednesday session as well.

In addition to those webinars, Bloomerang also offers some donor management software. So, if that’s something that you are interested in or perhaps going to be in the market for soon, we’d love for you to check out our website. You can go to our demo page and you can view a video demo. You don’t even have to talk to a sales person to see our software if you don’t want to. So, check that out, we’d love to hear from you more after the presentation.

So, I’m really excited to introduce today’s guest. She is Wendy Dyer. Wendy, I’m glad to finally have you here. It feels like we’ve been talking about this for about a year. Thanks so much for being here.

Wendy: Sure. Thank you.

Steven: Yeah. This is great. I’m really excited to hear all about the sizzle. I just want to brag on you for just a moment before you get started. If you guys don’t know Wendy, she’s definitely someone you need to know. She’s got over 22 years of experience working with hundreds of nonprofits as a consultant throughout the country, especially in the Midwest.

She’s helped raise millions of dollars. She’s helped expand programs, build schools, health centers and cultural places. She’s brought lots of opportunity to the thousands of people that she has served through her consultancy. She’s a frequent presenter. She’s a frequent trainer. Her thing is encouraging agencies to find their sizzle and embrace her mantra that people are giving away money anyway and it might as well be to you. She’s going to cover all that today.

Wendy, I’m really excited. Why don’t you take it away from us, my friend?

Wendy: Wonderful. Welcome, everybody. Thank you very much for spending part of your day with me on one of my favorite topics, which is finding your sizzle. As Steven said, I’ve been a consultant for 22 years. Just this spring I had an anniversary. I’ve done hundreds of workshops, not many webinars.

I realized this morning in preparing that it’s not like at a workshop where I can have the snarky comment or the people rolling your eyes at me or saying, “Are you crazy?” There’s kind of advantage of having this webinar. So, I’m looking forward to it. Again, the more interactive we can make this with your comments and stuff, the better.

So, we’re here to talk about sizzle and having your fundraising language have sizzle. So, today we’re going to be exploring the emotions of fundraising, which ones you want to use, which ones you want to avoid, coming upon this relatively new philosophy, which is called effective altruism and how does that affect emotions in fundraising. I’m very, very intrigued by that. Many of you are probably familiar with what they call for short EA. So, I’m excited about that.

How do you find your sizzle? What’s the importance of what I call relatability, which is not even a word? If this was on spell check, it would have that wiggle line under it. But it’s very important that our language be relatable to people. How do we tenderize our story so we make it stick in people’s minds?

So, again, first, I’ve been around for 22 years as a consultant. I hope I’ve learned some things. These don’t really relate to memes we use, but just some random mantras. I’m often encouraging people I work with to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Nobody ever died being uncomfortable that I know of. I’d rather that you tried something new and different than just stayed safe and did nothing at all. That’s one of my mantras that I really like to impress upon people. I think is important.

A woman I worked with early in my career, her line was, “Stop shopping for shoes in a bakery.” I love that. What she means is if you shop for shoes in a bakery, you’re only going to get a heel. Bad joke there. Anyway, again, we can’t keep staying where we’re safe. We can’t keep doing those things and not getting the result we want.

A wonderful fundraiser had his term, “Stay pleasantly persistent.” I love that. When we think we’re bugging donors and trying to nurture these relationships with them, all we’re trying to do is stay pleasantly persistent. I hope that will mean something to you as you build your fundraising career.

The second to last one — I.E. Millstone was a wonderful philanthropist in our St. Louis metro area. I would read about him and I never had the pleasure to meet him. He had a line, a quote I thought was just beautiful. He said, “I feel sorry for people who deprive themselves of the pleasure of being givers.”

For me, that just speaks volumes of the kind of fundraising I like to promote and like to do. We’re not in it to take money from people or strong-arm people. We want to really give them the pleasure of being givers. Much of that comes through with the language that we use. That’s relevant for today.

I think Steven already said this line about me, WD. That’s me, Wendy Dyer. Keep in mind, it’s much more clumsy than I.E. Millstone. I always say people are giving money away anyway, it might as well be to you. So, maybe start every board meeting you have so people can be on the same page, even say it to yourself right now — people are giving money away anyway, it might as well be to me. I love those kinds of things.

So, we all know this to be true. People give what they want to give. Sometimes you have to force the tit for tat giving, which I.E. Millstone and I don’t like. We know what makes them happy. It’s proven that endorphins are indeed released when people make charitable donations. It’s called that warm glow.

People want to do good. It’s our job to help them to good that they want to do. They’re made aware. They’re inspired. This is where we’re really getting into what we’re talking about our language. We’re inspiring these people with what we’re trying to accomplish. Then, of course, they’re asked to give the funds.

How do we get a slice of a $360 billion pie in this country? You all know we’re back to the pre-recession levels. Things are looking really good. But all we really have is what we say and that’s it. So, when you think about what $360 billion buys in any other industry, it’s buying something — cars, Rams Stadium, god knows we just got through that in St. Louis, now they’re in LA. Usually money like that goes to buy something. In our industry it doesn’t buy anything. It buys good will. So, it’s really important to avail ourselves of those charitable dollars. All we have is what we say.

So, whether we’re saying it in paper or in person, we really have to make it sizzle. That’s how we can get our competitive edge going here. So, what is sizzle? I didn’t make up that term. It’s got to be compelling. Sometimes we’re really good at what we do but not why we do it. There are books written about that.

But the we do is usually filled with a bunch of statistics and things like that. I say we’ve got to chill out on the statistics. We’re overloading people with too much stuff that they’re not going to retain. We’ve got to focus on the one. We’ve got to make it emotional, relatable and tender. As you can see, I’m not very good with this little marker here. I’m doing my best, folks.

So, let’s start with the one. Here’s Mother Theresa. You’ll recognize her happy face down here. She always said this first quote. “If you show me the masses, I cannot act, but if you show me the one, I can.” Really, really important to remember that. Now, I don’t know who said this but it was a brilliant mind. “Looking at one person instead of many humanizes it.” Now, we’ve seen these things to be true when we looked about the different fundraising approaches of African famine, like with this little young guy down here.

When they go about their fundraising talking about the millions of people — I’m talking too fast. Thank you for that comment — when we see in trying to reduce the famine in Africa and they go about their fundraising talking about the millions of people who are dying of starvation, which is horrifying, they find the results aren’t ever nearly as good as when they focus on the one person. We need to remember that, especially when we throw out these statistics and big numbers. We can’t as people relate to millions of people. But as human beings, we can relate to one person.

Now, you may wonder what I’m doing with this little red tail hawk here. So, does anybody know the story of Pale Male? He was a red tail hawk in Central Park in one of the beautiful high rises in New York City, causing quite the mess and ruckus on the beautiful facility. There was an effort to try to get rid of Pale Male. Then these do-gooders raised a campaign to save this bird and they gave him a name, Pale Male. What’s important and relevant for today is you can personify a bird and get a fundraising result. That says a lot in how we need to humanize and personify the work that we’re trying to do.

So, I want to take a step back to why did I start studying the role of emotions in fundraising. I want to tell you why. When I was in college, I was horrible at econ. That was my grade. Now, by the grace of goodness, I was friends with the professor’s daughter and he ended up giving me a C. But because I was so bad in macro and micro, I held economists in like massive self-image. They were like gods to me. I thought they were absolutely brilliant people.

Then what happened was when the recession hit and everything was going into a tailspin, I was like, “Thank god for the economists because they’re going to be able to figure all this out.” Funny enough, while some did have answers and directions to go, but you might remember the majority of the economists said, “We don’t know.” What they said was, “So much of what we do in the financial sector is rooted in emotion.” That completely and permanently blew my mind because I knew I was in a field that dealt with emotion. That was pretty logical and obvious. I had no clue these hardcore economic discussions and decisions were also rooted in emotions.

So, I started studying it and I found that all the analytics, all the stats, they come in and they filter through our brains and they help us decide what to do. In the end, that clicker is emotion that comes in, and that emotion is what helps us decide. You can research this yourself. This is what I’ve learned and found to be true. Of course, some people are more analytical and some or not. In the end, hardcore decisions, simple decisions, emotion plays an enormous role.

So, that of course made me want to study emotions in actual fundraising. So, I thought, “Okay, what emotions do you not want to use in fundraising?” Usually at a workshop we’ll play hangman. I’ll ask people to give me letters and find out what works. But the emotion we want to avoid in our fundraising is pity. So, when you do your language and you’re trying to build sizzle, don’t ever present the person that you’re supporting or the program you’re supporting in a pitiful sight or in pitiful way.

So, let’s look at why. I’ll ask you this. What happens when you see something that’s pitiful? What is your natural inclination to do when you see something that looks pitiful? The natural inclination is typically to turn away, turn away and we don’t want to look at it. That then prompted me, “What emotion do we want to trigger if we want people to find something and donate to your cause? So, which one?”

Think about that for a second. I’d love to hear some feedback on it. Why don’t you guys write on the chat? What emotions do you think you want to trigger? Get somebody to spur them into action, what do you want to trigger? Empathy, empowerment, inspiration, empathy, righteous indignation, hope, anger, success, hope — this is so funny, I have a slide later on hope. These are great, happiness. I see a couple of them.

Here’s the answer. It’s anger. So, a few of you had that in there. So, this is not anger that you’re enraged. This is anger that’s something is not right. So, when you think about it, when you get irritated by something, what happens if something irritates you? What’s your natural reaction? The natural reaction is to laser in. It’s got your attention right there. Do you see how that makes sense?

So, it’s not that you’re enraged, but something is not right. I would ask each of you to think of the program you’re trying to raise money for and think of the sentence, “It’s not right that . . .” and how would you fill that in? Like for a child abuse prevention organization, they may say, “It’s not right that home is not safe for children, of all places the home is not safe for children.”

Think about that and type some of your responses here. “It’s not right that . . .” what? How would you answer that question? Anybody want to fill that out? If not we can move on. Denying education, going through cancer, no. It’s not right that animals are abused. This is your core to your sizzle because this is not right. Kids go to bed hungry, the water they drink — that is a very unknown fact. It’s not right that people are not safe in the water they drink.

I want to pause for a second. “It’s not right,” is different than, “It’s not fair.” There’s a difference in those sentences. It doesn’t sound the same. So, again, a piece of that $360 billion pie, we have to be careful of what we say because seventh grade we learn that life wasn’t fair, maybe by age 22 we learn that life isn’t fair. Don’t confuse the two. It’s not, “It’s not fair.” It’s, “It’s not right.”

So, one of the terms I use is relatability. I used to call this proximity. But now I call it relatability. What I meant by proximity in this is that it doesn’t have a geographic boundary. It’s that, “Can I relate to this whole issue?” Relatability is not a real word. I made it up. I think I have anyway. No geographic boundaries.

So, let’s think for a moment the world’s responses to natural and man-made disasters. We all know what this is, right? 9/11, the Southeast Asia tsunami, a year later was the Pakistani earthquake, killed 230,000 people, of course we know the devastation that was Sandy Hook, Haiti earthquake and then down here we have Katrina.

Now, I’m a consummate studier of our field and I hope you guys are too. One of my favorite books is called The Science of Giving. It goes into reactions to disasters and things like that. I want to share with you something very interesting. So, 9/11 was by far the number one that got the largest dollars per victim in 9/11. Southeast Asia tsunami — a lot of money flowed into here. Sandy Hook — so much money flowed into that relatively affluent community, they wanted to turn it back.

Now let’s look at the Pakistani earthquake where 230,000 people were killed — virtual nothing. Biggest fundraiser, if you want to call it that, of all time, was Hurricane Katrina. I don’t know if you can see that image, that was the mom who was covered up in her wheelchair and left by the Superdome down there.

Let’s talk about relatability. You have to be able to relate to these situations and the people that you’re trying to serve with your programs. You have to be able to get it. We can relate to our mom or grandma being left down there. We can relate to being stuck in the towers. That’s what I mean about relatability. Your language has absolutely got to say . . . if I don’t get it, if you can’t put it in context for me, I’m not going to be able to relate.

As most of you probably know, down in the St. Louis metro region, we’ve had enormous problems the last couple — well, it goes back a couple of decades — but it’s been in the public the last couple years with the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. The educational, economic and social disparities are just heartbreaking.

Last fall, this little girl, Jamyla Bolden, down in St. Louis, she was killed. Now, let’s read this together. Here’s what the account said. Again, we’re talking about relatability. “Nine-year old Jamayla was lying on her mother’s bed doing homework when shots rang through the window, killing her and wounding her mother in the leg.”

My question to you is how do you relate to this little girl? How do you relate to her? Do you want to post a couple of things there?

All right. So, here we go. Next one, same phrase, but one word is missing. “Nine-year Jamyla was lying on her mother’s bed when shots rang through the window, killing her and wounding her mother in the leg.” What’s missing here? What’s missing that you can relate to? Homework.

Think about that. We all come to this from different perspectives, but we all remember doing homework, right? Except me, I probably didn’t do enough homework in my micro/macroeconomics class which is what made me so bad at that subject. It’s something that we do every day.

Now, if we take out the homework and just had her lying on her mother’s bed when shots rang through the window, one thing I always try to say in fundraising is let’s not put up any red flags. Why was she on her mom’s bed? Does she not have a bed of her own? It causes a reason to pause. But when we have homework in there, think about it. It kind of takes away all the other details of like, “The kid was just doing homework and she was killed.”

Here’s the second case. I appreciate your guys’ comments. Of course the loss of the daughter, absolutely. So, this was a little guy, Daniel Cabrera, he was, as it reads, “A homeless Filipino boy broke hearts around the world when he was photographed studying on the sidewalk by the light of a McDonald’s restaurant.” So, read that again. You can see the picture right here. I can’t really tell where he is. Here’s somewhere but I don’t really know.

So, now let’s talk one word out of there, same picture. “Homeless Filipino boy broke hearts around the world when he was photographed studying on the sidewalk by the light of a restaurant.” What’s missing there that’s relatable to all of us? Those golden arches. It’s so funny because in the picture, we can’t even see that he’s at McDonald’s. It’s not like the McDonald’s that we’re accustomed to. Wherever he is, it was the McDonald’s restaurant.

The case with Jamayla angered people because of the loss, because of everything that a lot of money came in to support the family, which was nice. In this case, the same thing happened and a lot of money was raised, schools got books. I think honestly I think this little guy was like 7. He had a college education already paid for because of this.

So, that’s relatability. All of us have to come to this to figure out how do people relate. The point is if I can’t see myself in the context of what you’re trying to do, I will not be able to relate. We’re going to move to tenderizing a little bit. How do I tenderize? First of all, you’ve got to prove the pervasiveness of your problem with statistics. I really get that, bringing it down to the one, like Mother Theresa said. Help me relate to that person by something. Those couple examples were just a couple words but some way that I can relate to them.

Like a domestic violence shelter, if I don’t have a friend or my mom or myself who’s had problems with domestic violence, I’m not going to be able to understand it. As many of you know, a lot of domestic violence victims are revictimzied by the people who say, “Why don’t they just leave?” This is a good example of relatability. I have to be able to see how I can find myself, by some unfortunate circumstance, in a DV situation or somebody that I care about.

Here’s the tenderizing. Share with me something that’s really tender. This is a word I’m trying to really promote. We remember these things that are tender. Let’s look at this. So, to me, tenderizing is not like preparing meat for dinner but it’s memorable. It’s imagery. It’s that image that we put in people’s minds.

Just the other day, I think it was yesterday, I was at a really nice workshop. Some awesome organization was there and they were telling me that the youth that they serve, they go to a food pantry. I said, “Give me a little more.” They said, “They don’t have food at home. So, they go . . .” They may have given the name.

I kept challenging her, “I’ve got to know more. Tell me something about the person. Tell me about their behavior.” This is a kid, first of all “youth” is not very descriptive. Even if they were to say it was a male who was 14, that still doesn’t help me. What if they tell me that little 14-year old is always bummed out when they run out of Cheerios. That might sound stupid, but we’re going to remember that when we go grocery shopping on the cereal aisle and we see a box of Cheerios that we can very easily pick up off the shelf and buy for our family and children.

See what I mean by that? Maybe if the child was excited about getting the fresh produce and is going to look up some recipes at school about kale, god forbid. I make jokes about kale all the time. But that’s going to be memorable.

Here’s an example I have here on the slide. I work a lot with college access and getting kids to grade level and stuff who all the time say, “We’re going to get the kid to read at grade level.” Well, that’s fine. That’s important. Metrics and academics, but what’s their favorite story? What would be wrong with saying that?

What if it’s a child in foster care who’s helping with their academic improvement. Maybe their favorite book is “Are You My Mother?” Maybe it’s a fourth grader or even a third-grader who’s able to master Harry Potter. What’s the favorite thing about those books? Maybe it’s the butter beer that the little kid got such a kick out of because of Harry Potter. What is it about the story? Are some of their pages dog-eared?

So, you can’t just say the kid is reading at grade level. It is so unmemorable. But that’s the kind of stuff that we put out there. Even if the examples that you give might seem a little silly, I think it’s better because it’s going to be more tender and more memorable.

So, in essence, tender is really something that sticks. So, again, don’t say, “During summer, the low-income kids go hungry because they’re not at school and they can’t get their main meals.” That’s true. We’ll probably pepper it with how many and stuff like that. The reality is — I just realized this the other day with somebody I was working with — a lot of kids, they don’t get the food from the school, so in summer, they have food scarcity anyway, but they have even more during summer because they don’t have these guaranteed meals.

How awful is that? Then they said something brilliant. They said, “They spend their time looking for food.” That is a lot different than saying they’re not getting their food at school. So, again, if I haven’t experienced hunger, I can’t understand it. But I can picture my children or myself or that child, instead of doing something decent over the summer, that they’re literally out there looking for food. That’s the tenderizing that I’d like you to think about.

So, I want to pause just a moment on an un-sizzling word. I hope that those of you who think hope is a reason to compel people to give won’t be mad at me. I realized about four months ago when I was doing an email I had the word “hope” like three times in my email. I was like, “That sounds so silly.” Three times in my email. As I say this, I want you to know you can still be a hopeful person but not overuse “hope.” I think it’s completely overused in our industry and I started looking at it.

But before I give you an example, it made me think of Boeing. Boeing is the big presence down here in St. Louis and WWBD, what would Boeing do? Boeing, if they’re going after a big defense contract, are they going to write an email that says, “We hope to hear from you soon,” or, “We hope we get the contract.” Of course they’re not going to do that. So, why are we talking like that? We are in the business of compelling people into action.

Does hope compel? It really does not. So, there’s this lady, she’s a health coach. Her name is Julie Ann Price. You can Google her. She’s got some neat stuff. She’s a health coach, not a fundraising coach. She says hope lacks action and it’s powerless. So, she has this exercise that she asks people do around their health. I’m going to ask you to do it around fundraising.

So, think for a moment about something you really, really are looking for, maybe a $1 million gift, maybe a new prospect, whatever it is. Why don’t you close your eyes and put your head down and say that sentence — you can say it out loud because we can’t hear you. Say it to yourself but use the word “hope.” “I hope I get that $1 million gift from the Jones family.” Whatever it is. So, take a few seconds and just use the word “hope”. Try it.

When you’re done, how did that make you feel? Just put it in the little chat box. How did it make you feel when you used the word hope? Weak, ineffective, uncertain, unsure. Someone felt positive. There is a role in hope. We can be hopeful people. It makes somebody feel anxious, powerless, fairy tale-ish — I love that.

Think about that when you write your email, and I’m a victim of this. I do this all the time and I’m still catching myself. So, what Julie Ann Price would say, what she would say in health, use the word “demand,” which of course we cannot say with our donors. Look at these words instead and come up with your own — anticipate, look forward to, welcome, trust, have faith.

There’s this neat guy. His name is Walter Latham. I love what he says about faith. He says, “Faith happens when you believe in something before it occurs.” That’s nice. I really like that. But expect, believe.

So, think about this a second. Our words are all we have, $360 billion — words are what get us part of that investment. So, we’ve got to impact our behaviors — words impact our behaviors. So, take that same sentence that you just had using the word “hope” and substitute one of these words or some other words that you like better.

So, let’s close our eyes and bow our head and do the same sentence, try it, and then write down how you felt in the chatroom. Confident, driven, so much stronger, empowered. I’m so excited you guy, that’s awesome. Optimistic — this is great, all-in, I love it — powerful, hopeful, that’s funny. We can be hopeful people and we are by nature hopeful people. Here’s one, “It’s going to happen.” Great.

I hope that helps you. Please write a little Post-it note and put it on your computer and put it on your desk. If you keep this top of mind, you’re going to be catching yourself where you’re using these lacking action words. Again, all we have is what we say. So, make it stick. Here’s our last one – driven, empowered.

Okay. Now, we’re going to take a sharp turn. Has anybody heard of this philosophical movement called effective altruism. Type in your chat box yes or no. I’m just curious. We’ve got mostly no’s and a few yeses. That’s good. This really got my attention when I was reading out this. I don’t remember if it was in . . . there are fundraising lessons and stories in everything, everywhere you go, and everything you read. I’ve found fundraising lessons I could take home from Popular Science magazine. There’s always something we can learn about fundraising to make it applicable.

I was turned on to EA from an article in The New York Times. I get the Sunday Times. But I did some digging on it because it’s completely in the face of this emotion stuff we’re talking about today. So, it’s very, very fascinating to me. It’s called “the generosity for nerds”. What they try to do is use evidence and analysis to take action to help as many people as possible. A lot of them go by this give well.

Give Well identified the charities around the world that made the most impact. What the EA proponents say we have to do is accomplish the most good that helps the most people in the world. What’s interesting to me about emotion and sizzle is that it tells us we’ve got to divorce our generosity and our giving from emotion. If that takes over, everything we just talked about emotion is completely bogus, right?

I think this is really fascinating to include in our conversation today. It is definitely popular in some circles. You see it in Silicon Valley. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife are getting into this, high-profile people. Anybody remember Peter Singer? He wrote Animal Liberation. That book really affected me when I was in high school, I don’t know. He’s a proponent of it. He’s written a book about it.

Let’s look at some of the things it says. It says the most effective charities make 1,000 times the impact of the least effective charity. What that means is $1,000 to an ineffective charity is the same as $1 to one of the good ones. Does that not surprise you?

My references for this, I put them down below here. Besides “The Science of Giving,” one of my other favorite pieces is “Money for Good.” I hope that you all have looked at “Money for Good.” They have two issues of it now. They’re very good. They talk about donor behavior. What they found is that 3% of donors are using research in their decision. Today, I’m talking about using emotion in their decision. They talk about research only.

So, what effective altruist proponents say, urge you to avoid emotion. They avoid emotion, intuition or brand loyalty in making your decision. It tells you don’t donate, for example, to a cancer organization just because you lost a relative. So, what did we just get finished covering? Relatability. You can relate to somebody because you had somebody who was lost to cancer. Therefore, you may feel emotionally compelled to support a cancer research entity.

So, who knows what the crystal ball is for effective altruism? Will it continue to grow in popularity? It’s relatively new. I think it’s a meaningful thing for us to study and figure out. I also want to point out the well give that I mentioned that’s rooted in EA, it profiles top charities. I think the number one is called Against Malaria. If you look at Against Malaria, they want to make the biggest impact that affects the most people for the most good in the world.

So, if I have a choice between getting a kid or a family into a shelter, homeless shelter to get them out in the rain one day, they would say that’s not good use of my money, take the same dollars . . . in the New York Times article, they mentioned Make a Wish Foundation. This writer here, he kind of debunks the theory a little bit. It’s a very compelling read if you look it up. It was last December. But he said that Make a Wish, it was like $9,900 to send a child who is suffering, of course, on a trip. Well, the EA people might say that $9,900 will go a lot further. That’s what they’re trying to do.

I want to point out, if you look at the Against Malaria website, which is, of course, excellently done, they send nets to people to keep the mosquitos away. If you’re a donor, you get to see exactly where your net went. They actually show you in photos where that net is that you bought. That’s sizzle to me. So, perhaps we can have high impact with EA but still know that there’s some good sizzle language that they’re bringing in to compel people to make those gifts.

So, you get to decide, no crystal ball for the future of fundraising or effective altruism if it will start a trend towards people not relying on emotions. But we know there’s only 40% donor retention, which is really pathetic.

Somebody did a pretty cool study that indicated that donor retention was like half of gym membership retention. We need to do a better job. We know donors are switching around a lot. They go where they want to go. We also know everybody’s getting smarter. You and I hopefully are getting better at what we’re doing. Donors are getting smarter.

Millennials, I’m a first-year gen-Xer. There are 40 million of us gen-Xers, there are 70 or 71 million millennials. How are they going to use emotion? How will they respond to emotion? Will they be more logical? What will be the role of emotions moving forward? We don’t know. But knowledge is power. So, being attuned to it is really, really critical.

Before we turn this back over to Steven for your questions and comments, I just want to draw your attention to the savage of the stage, Josephine Baker, who was an amazing performer and a line that she said that I think is just beautiful and I think is really important for all of us in fundraising. She said, “You have to grow and change all the time. When you no longer have something new to do or say, you disappear.”

That’s very true for our programs. Our programs have to be updated. The way we approach donors needs to be updated. Our language needs to be updated. Gone are the days where we can just do the same thing, which is why we started off with talking about you’ve got to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I’d rather you tried something new and did it poorly than did nothing at all. That’s my wish to you moving forward here. It’s almost time for our Q&A, so I’m going to turn it back over to Steven. Let’s have some fun discussion.

Steven: All right. Thanks, Wendy. I love the sizzle. This is awesome. I really love the examples and your exercises about halfway through. We enjoyed listening to that and seeing people’s answers come in through the chat. So, thanks. That was awesome, Wendy. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did. Please do send in some questions. We’ve probably got about 12-15 minutes for questions. We’re willing to stick around as long as you folks are. I’m going to go to the first one that we got here from Sandy.

Sandy is asking about audiences. Is there a difference between a corporate presentation and an individual presentation? Should we provide more stats in a corporate presentation? Should Sandy maybe change up the content or the tone? What do you feel about audiences? Do you think all this kind of applies to everyone you’re talking to or should you maybe alter some of this a bit depending on who you’re actually presenting to?

Wendy: Great question. I think that as fundraisers, we’re chameleons. We have to adapt ourselves to our environment. So, I think in a corporate environment, if you can claim some kind of fiscal benefit, some kind of financial effectiveness, I think that always goes over well.

But I want to make a point. I was interviewing somebody. They’re around the world, actually, at the headquarters for a feasibility study for a campaign. It was one of the chief people. He was talking, kind of trashing nonprofits, not by name. He wasn’t being unkind. But he was just saying how ineffective they are and everything. So, I said, “Let me ask you. What nonprofit represents like a stellar approach?” And the one that he mentioned was the one his wife was involved with.

So, if you ask people who make these corporate gifts, they’re still people. I think we need to have a blend. I think we have to prove ourselves by our statistical claims and some kind of effectiveness outcome-based stuff. We’re never going to get away from that. That’s really important. But I would not avoid those real life examples so that they too can understand it. I hope that helps.

Steven: Love it. Here’s one from Erin that jumps out to me. We get a variation of this question just about every session we have regardless of the topic. It basically comes down to sometimes orgs have an easier time with this. There’s a perception that it’s easier. So, Erin sounds like she’s working at an arts and culture organization.

Any suggestions for her in terms of relatability as opposed to a charity that maybe has something easy to understand or tangible like food and water or shelter and those basic necessities? Perhaps Erin is feeling like maybe people aren’t going to be as compelled from an arts and culture standpoint as they would from someone who needs food or medicine or that basic care. What advice would you have for Erin there with her particular cause?

Wendy: Great question. Erin, depending on how long you’ve been at your arts and culture place, you may recall when the Great Recession came and economists didn’t know what to do. Much of the funding went away from the arts and shifted to basic shelter, food. We’re back in the realm where arts programs . . . in fact, I believe Giving USA indicated arts had the biggest increase, I think it was like a 9% increase.

I have two comments here. If you look at the effective altruism, they in essence may say art doesn’t matter because it’s not fixing the world. But I’ve been so inspired with arts groups I’ve worked with where I had to make the case. There’s some excellent outcome-based stuff that claimed the value of art — academic improvement, self-esteem, health, really, really good claims that you can make.

So, if you have trouble finding it, send me a note or whatever and I’ll help you find it. I recently had to go through that and do it. There is some really inspiring information out there about arts.

Steven: Love it. Speaking of reporting those impact-type things and data, how do you mitigate that with expressing emotion? It seems like some of those data points and impact-type things, they’re kind of cold and factual. How do you balance that with the emotion? That’s something that Kelly here is asking.

Wendy: So, stats have a role in describing the pervasiveness of a problem. We all know we’re under siege by this heroin addiction. You can’t talk about saving someone from heroin if you don’t shock them with the facts and figures. But they don’t have to exist separately. What I mostly see is just the stats. Then I’ve got to zoom it in. You’ve got to take me to somebody who really has experienced this heroin problem.

I think they both are important. You will find if you start Googling this whole topic, some people are proponents of getting rid of statistics all together. They’re not memorable. You can remember the person. I think they have a role in proving your point of the issue.

Steven: Kind of a supporting role, perhaps?

Wendy: Yeah. That’s the way to put it.

Steven: I’m going to jump in here with my own question if everyone doesn’t mind. I promise we’ll get to as many as we can. As I was listening today, I’ve always thought about when consultants are . . . I guess my question is balancing that issue of exploitation. You want to be impactful and really show off a need and evoke emotion out of your potential donors and current donors. What’s your opinion, Wendy, on that balance between being effective in doing that and not being exploitative, I guess?

Wendy: So, what’s the rule, don’t ever assume anything? Because we don’t really know, so we’ll assume that someone doesn’t want their story shared. If you want a real story that you share, ask your clients. Some clients are very proud to have their story shared. So, don’t fail to do that. But the other thing is it’s perfectly acceptable to do a composite story. You don’t have to say, “We’re using different names to protect the innocent. If you feel like you have to, put a little footnote, make it small that you changed the names to protect their identity. But composite story or get the approval, the right to use the real story.

Steven: Love it. Great questions here, by the way. Keep them coming, for sure. Here’s one from John. How do we convince leadership that this is the right thing to do, this is strategic, being emotional and not sugarcoating things is going to be strategic? What advice would you have for John and everyone on maybe getting buy in? You believe in this stuff and you want to do it but you’re getting a little bit of pushback from leadership from the board, maybe your boss, something like that.

Wendy: They may be saying that without taking themselves through their own exercise. So, you can do a survey with your board and you can frame out different stories. One thing I like to encourage people to do every 18 months or so, and you can do this through focus groups or through Survey Monkey or maybe Bloomerang, Steven, you might have some survey capabilities in your program there.

Steven: Yeah.

Wendy: But you tease out every detail of your program. We have the curse of knowledge where we really can’t say we’re right or wrong. You’ve got to ask the people. But what you can come out, if you list out your programs, you ask the questions, “What would make you excited to support?” or, “What would make you giddy to support?” or, “What problem we’re addressing is most compelling to you?”

If you list those out, you will come up with a spot on example of the person or the issue you’re serving, how you’re doing it and what the best outcome is and how people want to be reached. So, you take that data back to your board and say the people have spoken.

Steven: Great idea.

Wendy: Here’s what the people want. I love doing that. I think it’s really important. Every 18 months that becomes the story that you stick to.

Steven: It’s impossible to argue it.

Wendy: Right.

Steven: Here’s one from Anita. This is kind of the other side of the coin from maybe an arts and culture org where you’re kind of having to compete with other causes that are perceived to be more valuable. Anita is asking about cancer as sort of the cause or the topic. How do you get over the fact that maybe people are numb to it? They hear about cancer all the time. It’s almost too well known. What do you recommend as a tool to maybe bring that back into people’s minds as something that is – I don’t want to say exciting – but something that should be focused on and get over that emotional numbness from it being such a pervasive and well-championed cause?

Wendy: Wow. And I would be curious to know are the dollars for cancer going down? I think that would be interesting to know. Well, what if cancer, like a lot of other problems we all face as human beings, they know no socioeconomic boundaries. Cancer can happen at anytime, anywhere, any place and the faces of cancer are multiple. It’s diverse. It’s everywhere. I would think people recognize it can happen to them any time.

I just finished something the other day for Center for Head Injury. Head injury can occur every 22 seconds. So, any time, any place and it can happen to you. That’s, I think, what you want to get across with the cancer. Make it real like that.

Steven: Love it. Here’s one, a couple of comments and questions here from Paul and I definitely want to address them. Paul is sort of looking for tips on how to maybe identify perhaps those people in your existing donor database or new prospects who are going to be most likely to respond to this type of fundraising.

I think Paul is concerned perhaps not everyone that they could appeal to is going to have the empathy towards their cause necessarily. Are there any tips for maybe helping people self-identify as emotional givers or perhaps identify those people that are already on your list to segment and target specifically with these kinds of appeals. Any tips there? Are there any engagement signals that are floating at the surface you could easily identify?

Wendy: Too bad you can’t identify emotion from someone’s handwriting. Well, I guess we’re referring to people who are truly getting what I would call passive fundraising. There’s no personal communication. These are people responding to email solicitations or direct mail or whatever.

I would think in the absence of doing a focus a group or Survey Monkey, casting it out to everybody you have email addresses for, if you do it on something on Survey Monkey — Steven, this might be an example where you guys have something — like Constant Contact, you can see who’s responding. You can actually see who is responding to what on your survey. Survey Monkey does not allow that. But the other thing is this is not as fast, but some of what we do is testing and trying with your donor segmentation. Try one group with this, one or the other. You’ve got to try to play around with it a little bit.

Steven: I love surveys. Surveys are super powerful, for sure.

Wendy: Yeah.

Steven: Wendy, here’s a question from Alora. Alora, I hope I’m pronouncing your name correctly. How do you make raising funds for general operating purposes or maybe even overhead sort of compelling versus a specific campaign, maybe like a one-time campaign or a specific fund? We’d all love to raise money for our general operating funds for sure. Is there a way to do that and still do all the advice that you’ve recommended here today or does it only work best when it’s towards a specific fund or project or campaign that’s really tangible and something you can easily report back on?

Wendy: I hear the concern. I really do. I don’t think at all. Of course we know there are a lot of efforts afoot to help donors understand we can’t carry out the program if we don’t have the overhead. Here’s what I would suggest. Take your total dollar budget, divide it by the number of people you serve. You may pocket it with people in different programs. So, if I’m a child abuse prevention place and I have $4 million and I serve 7,500 children, that’s $5,532 a kid. Now, those kids are coming in all different programs. It may be the parent program, it may be respicare. But that is what it costs in general per person.

That’s how I have found you can get around this insanity of not being able to cause our general operating cost. It’s ridiculous. We’ve got to fight for these dollars. That’s one way I’ve found effective. Maybe divide it up. The good thing is we can be creative in our field here. So, be creative with how you’re doing your dividing and see what makes sense, the most sense to you. That’s how I would do it, so you’re not pulling out overhead costs. I hope that helps. I’ve used that several times.

Steven: I completely agree. It is kind of ridiculous as well. My wife is a fundraiser and I’d like for her to be able to get paid. So, operating costs matter.

Wendy: Indeed.

Steven: Well, this was great. Absolutely. We’re just about out of time and I want to be respectful of people’s schedules since we’re approaching 2:00. Why don’t we do one last question? One just came in from Sarah. Sarah is asking, “Would you recommend any change in your approach for different types of engagement rather than requesting a philanthropic engagement?” We talked a lot about donations today but would you also suggest bringing these things to bear for volunteer requests or sponsorships, even for board membership, committee membership? Do these things apply?

Wendy: Absolutely. We’ve got to make it sizzle. We’re in it against everybody else. Not against, I don’t mean that in a negative sense. Absolutely. I think board recruitment is essential. Why would they want to come and join your board? You have to use this language everywhere.

Steven: That’s it. We’ll leave it at that. Wendy, this was so awesome. I’m really glad we got you on the schedule and you were able to take more than an hour out of your day to share all this wisdom with us. I hope you had as much fun as I did listening.

Wendy: I did.

Steven: Thanks, Wendy.

Wendy: Thank you, everybody.

Steven: I’ll give you the last word. How can people get ahold of you? Will you take questions through email, your website, all that good stuff?

Wendy: Absolutely. WendyDyer.com — it’s super simple. Any lingering things or if I talked too fast and you need it explained more, I’ve devoted my career to this field. I’m trying to groom the next generation of fundraisers. I feel it’s my civic responsibility to do that. I would be delighted to hear from you.

Steven: I hope you guys do reach out to her. She’s in St. Louis. So, if any of you Midwesterners are close by, look out for her name on conference schedules. Definitely attend her session if you see her. Well, this is great. Thanks everyone for hanging out with us today. I always appreciate you all taking an hour out of your day. I know you’re all very busy. This was a lot of fun.

We’re going to have a great webinar next week, a special Wednesday edition. So, six days from now, not on Thursday but this coming Wednesday, we’ve got Ellen Bristol and Linda Lysakowski, two of our favorites. They’re going to talk about how to identify the ideal donor, sort of creating that perfect persona of the types of people that you may want to target and ask money from.

So, check that out. That’s going to be a really good session. I had a chance to peek at the slides earlier this week. Definitely register for that one if you can fit that into your schedule. There are lots of other webinars scheduled out through May and June on our webinar page. So, hopefully you’ll find a topic there that looks appealing to you. So, hopefully we see you again next Wednesday, if not sometime soon.

Lots of other great resources on our website, we’d love for you to check these out, our blog. We’ve got lots of downloadables, Bloomerang TV, our podcasts, our newsletter, the Nonprofit Wrap-Up, which actually goes out tomorrow morning, so if you want that April edition of our newsletter, go there and sign up for it if you haven’t already. You’ll get that in your inbox tomorrow.

I’ll say a final thanks to everyone. Look for an email from me later on this afternoon. I’ll be sending to the recording as well as Wendy’s slides just in case you didn’t get them. So, be on the lookout for that. Have a great rest of your afternoon, a good weekend and hopefully we’ll see you again next week. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.
Kristen Hay