How To Make Donors and Prospects Tune Out Without Trying

Dog's head on desk showing apathy

Welcome Guest or an Unwelcome Pest?

Market constantly and aggressively to your prospects! … It takes them a long time to make a gift commitment, so stay in their faces! … If you think planned giving is interesting, they will, too! … The Internet has revolutionized the whole process of closing planned gifts. …The Send key is the fundraiser’s greatest friend… Blah, blah, blah…

Have you been hearing these statements lately at seminars or from website salesmen? Have they tempted you to imagine a brave new world where you will be able to cultivate and close planned gifts by remote control from the comfort of your office? Where prospects will come to you, fascinated by the electronic “spam” you send them daily?

Well – the results of the most successful planned giving operations in the country reveal just the opposite – and analysis of the experiences of organizations which have gone down the high-tech-only path also makes for interesting reading. This group has found some undesirable consequences from their new electronic chumminess with their prospects:

Prospects are sending the planned giving postings straight to their trash bin.

  • Their e-mail systems are deleting the postings as spam.
  • They are receiving exact-same, commercially generated e-mails from multiple charities.

The electronic messages these organizations are sending are bland, generic and boring, and so removed from the emotional and human link that binds the prospect to the charity that the prospect feels alienated from the appeal contained in the posting.

And the worst sin for the fundraiser is not taking into account the fact that non-response is not free.

The Subtle Flavor of Spam

Just like you, your prospects wade through a pile of unsolicited e- mail. Communications from their favorite charities are buried among appeals from supermarkets, mortgage brokers, and credit-repair agencies. Your prospects budget just a limited amount of time every day to checking e-mail – what’s the chance they will find your weekly planned giving newsletter among the chaff, and what’s the even smaller chance that they will take the time to open your posting and read it? And besides, are your prospects all opted-in? It is the law if you’re planing to send a series of email blasts.

Americans read their mail standing over the wastebasket, and we scan our e-mail with one finger on the Delete key.

Promotional material that is automatically mass-mailed to a list of email addresses sounds like spam, doesn’t it? Especially when it’s received with repetitive, mechanical frequency. You wouldn’t respond to that approach, and neither would your prospects. They’re more likely to reach for the Delete key and tune you out.

Dressing pseudo-spam up in a suit and tie and calling it a newsletter doesn’t fool anyone. Prospects aren’t dumb. Your most powerful argument in favor of their giving engages their mind with persuasive content. The mind of our donors is the marketing battleground.

Look at the content provided for most commercially produced e- newsletters.

Most often it consists primarily of generic gift-planning and investment advice. That comes as no surprise – canned information has to be “cookie-cutter” generic so it can be plugged in for distribution to multiple organizations. Regardless of how much information you think you are providing, on the receiving end your prospects will notice that it’s being duplicated by other organizations, is dry and uninteresting, and seems unrelated to your charitable mission. Result? You may lose their attention. Forever.

Whose Specialty Is This Anyway?

Here’s another point to consider: The big boys in the finance industry do investment advice better than anybody else. So when you send canned investment advice to your prospects, you’re competing with the mega-financial institutions on their home turf. In addition, prospects also have access to investment and estate- planning advice from sources like The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and the 24-hour business channels. Why waste your marketing resources trying to get your voice heard among that crowd?

(Famous anecdote: Prospect receives a canned financial-planning letter from the Zoo. Turns to his wife and says, “The day I listen to the Zoo about how to restructure our portfolio, I’ll send our broker there to feed the elephants.”)

When Do You Reach Overkill?

Relying on the form your marketing takes instead of on the message it delivers is the first step in turning your prospects away. Too much can be a bad thing, especially impersonal or intrusive contacts that communicate nothing of value about why your organization is in business. Your prospects will quickly reach the point of groaning, “Oh no, not her again,” when you bombard them with e-mails.

Mission-driven vs. Profit-driven

Of course you should use Websites, e-mails, and a creative blend of print pieces in your marketing. But as you deploy them, remember that you are building upon a special relationship with your prospects. They believe in the work of your organization, they are grateful for and proud of their association with you, and they want you to be able to keep on doing good work far into the future. Talk to them about that – it’s what we mean by the human contact. How can your marketing harness the power of this unique relationship? With mission-driven messages.

For fundraising professionals, understanding this distinction is crucial, and it reveals the fundamental flaw in automated, remote- control marketing.

Profit-driven Marketing

Puts you at a disadvantage. It reduces your message to generic gift or investment advice or canned profiles of models posing as “donors”, and

  • Limits your message to “Our planned gifts are as good as everybody else’s!”

Mission-driven marketing

Empowers your organization to build upon its unique relationship with prospects, and

  • Personalizes your message.

For example, “Your special legacy to our institution enables us to further the goals that we support together, far into the future. You can make a difference in the lives of those that we serve.”

Which works better? Which one grabs the attention and emotions of your prospects?

Profit-driven marketing is weakened because it is mechanical, impersonal, and generic. It dilutes quality with quantity in the name of convenience, and drives prospects to tune out.

Mission-driven marketing, on the other hand, trumps quantity with a unique, compelling, organization-specific message. It engages prospects on a personal level. Prospects see that electronic and print materials are genuine communications from their favored institution, so their minds will open to receive the message – about how their legacy can make a difference.

That’s how you avoid marketing overkill! That’s how you prevent your prospects from tuning you out. And that’s how you build on relationships and achieve real success for your organization through its planned giving program.

Here are some basic tips on how to market planned gifts.

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