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Downes Murray International News

Messages make a difference

The most effective fundraising messages usually focus on mission and motive. That is why, as fundraisers, we continually seek to match the missions of our organisations with the motives of potential donors.

Only when a match is made is it possible to create appropriate and persuasive messages capable of moving donors to action. The match-making process can be visualised like the three segments of a triangle, the sides being of equal value in the building of the total fundraising strategy.

On the one side is the mission or case statement of the organisation. On the other is the motive or analysis of the donor pool. These two segments determine the strength, direction and viability of the third side which represents the message of the appeal to be developed.

The first segment to consider is that of mission or a definitive view of our organisation; who we are, where we have been, where we are now, where we want to go and how we are going to get there.

These questions will be addressed in the case statement. It is simply not possible to proceed in the fundraising process without the self-analysis afforded by the case.

For if we cannot internally articulate our organisations’ priorities and goals, how can we ‘go public’ with an appeal to outsiders? The case provides not only the format but also the focus for all succeeding documents and informational materials.

Once the case segment is in place, we can logically move to the second side of the triangle and an analysis of donors’ motives. Again, we must consider a series of questions aimed at discovering the needs and interests of our prospects.

Most of these questions will be answered by a feasibility study which tests the strengths and weaknesses of the case by juxtaposing it with the responses of potential donors.

Feedback from the feasibility study will tell us if we have a match – if there is a constituency that can be persuaded to active participation if presented with effective messages that motivate them.

If so, we are ready to move to the third segment of the triangle and the methods of determining what kinds of messages are most appropriate.

Generally, the focus of the fundraising message depends on the nature and scope of the campaign. As a rule, however, the larger the gift being sought, the narrower the focus of the message.

For example, messages created for an annual fund will appeal to a somewhat general audience that has been identified and linked to the organisation. These messages could be found in newsletters, brochures, mixed media and/or events. Messages created for a major gift campaign, on the other hand, are personalised appeals to specific prospects who have been identified and linked to the organisation.

These messages usually include personal letters, one-on-one cultivation and negotiation, and proposals or a combination thereof. The proposal is one example of a personalised, precise message tailor-made for a particular prospect.

If we have done the required homework and set down the segments of the triangle by fleshing out the case, examining the donors’ motives and preparing messages that reflect their needs and interests, then we often know much more about them than they know about us.

We must, therefore, present a full and truthful picture of our organisations. This may include furnishing the donor with the case statement, the annual report, or an on-site visit. Providing the donor with information on how their gift is used and whom it benefits as well as recognition of the gift are essential messages that extend the value of the gift into the future.

The fundraiser and the donor have developed a personal relationship based on mutual trust and confidence. This relationship provides the opportunity to solicit future gifts and encourages the donor to consider those requests without the need to revisit the entire creative process.

Traditionally, we think of match-making as a matter of the heart. Our role as fundraisers is not unlike that of cupid. By creating appropriate and persuasive messages, we facilitate the match between the matters of our mission and the habits and hearts of our donors.

Karen B Wood comes to the field of fundraising from a background in media relations and higher education. She served as Editor of the White House News Service for more than two years has been a Professor in the Department of Communications at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.

This article first appeared in Fundraising Forum: Issue 14, October 1990.

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