Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fewer numbers...More Faces

In my experience in working with nonprofits, there are two things that have become evident to me.
  1. Every nonprofit does an incredible job of talking about themselves.
  2. Ninety percent of that talk in only appealing to themselves.
I'm often asked what the "magic equation" is that separates the largest nonprofits from their smaller, localized counterparts. The answer is simple...their message.

The natural tendency of nonprofit leadership is to promote their impact numbers at every opportunity and to everyone they meet.

  • We built 23 homes for impoverished last year.
  • We served 36,000 meals to the homeless.
  • We impacted 832,432,321.5 people last year.
Yes...that last number was a gross exaggeration.

Numbers such as these are important for grant applications, legislative advocacy and the board room. But to the general public...they don't amount to a hill of beans and seldom lead to increased financial or volunteer support. Ultimately, people do not give to a set of numbers and they do not even give to an organization...

They Give To People.

...And that is what separates the giants from the rest of us.

St. Jude's Children Hospital could go on and on about the number of children they treat and families they impact on an annual basis. They could focus on the fact that 5,700 patients receive treatment at the hospital each year; that they have 2.5 million square feet of research facilities; or that their staff published more than 680 articles in professional journals last year...but they don't. When you receive an email, card, or see an ad for St. Jude’s, you hear the story of children like 8-year-old Ryan, a beautiful young lady that loves animals and ice skating; but, also suffers from a rare form of cancer that only affects 20-25 children in the U.S. each year (you can read her story here).

St. Jude's understands that people don't give to numbers...they give to what they can see...hear...and touch...

They Give To People.

This doesn't mean that organizations such as St. Jude's do not discuss numbers. They do, but they take a different approach. For instance, St. Jude's must raise more than $600 million each year to cover operating expenses. Most people cannot formulate a vision of $600 million. However, everyone can envision $1 million, or in the case of St. Jude: $1.6 million - the amount needed to run the organization for 1 day. Moreover, $750 provides a day of chemotherapy for a child.

People cannot imagine their donation making an impact on a $600 million need that affects 5,700 patients. In most individual's minds, these numbers are unobtainable and staggering. However, a $750 need to help a child whose face you have seen, and story you know becomes a very real and obtainable goal.

The "big" nonprofits aren't more successful in fundraising because they have more resources, they are more successful in fundraising because they understand human emotion and tell the story of those they help.

So next time you create another marketing piece sharing every internal metric of your organization and how you helped a "bajillion" people; you should step back and ask: How have we helped one person? Now share that story.

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