Flip Your Perspective to Create Successful Donor-Focused Communications


Nate and I were thrilled to spend the day on August 30th at AFP St. Louis’ Gateway Conference on Philanthropy. This annual event brings together hundreds of philanthropy professionals from all over the Midwest to invest precious time focused on discussions, learning, and professional development. In addition to sponsoring this year’s conference, we also presented on understanding audiences and shared tips on creating communications that are focused on the donor, instead of on our organizations. Seems simple, but when you have goals to meet and deadlines are looming, it can be a challenge.

We pulled a few tips from our presentation to help you craft the right message for the right people every time.


1) Get the crew together: Are you planning an event or creating a communication piece with the input or influence of others? Then get everyone in a room and talk through the points below. It’s worth the extra time it will take to coordinate calendars. Getting all those voices in one spot to hear concerns, goals, and ideas of success will drastically shorten your time making revisions, or even starting over. People believe in what they help create. (PS if you are truly the only person involved in creating a communication, you can still use these exercises, and you should take yourself to Starbucks for an “off-site meeting”!)


2) Focus on the audiences: Begin by listing out every audience for the email, appeal letter, brochure, website, or event you are planning. Put up a giant sticky note on your wall and write down everyone that comes to mind. Just get ’em all out there. Now, give everybody TWO votes and tell them to pick the top two. And don’t give in and let Janet have three votes because she can’t decide. This is where you begin to focus. When you’re talking to everybody, you’re connecting with nobody.


3) Think through the experience: Now create three more giant sticky notes, titled THINK, FEEL, and DO. For each of the two audiences you prioritized, make a list of the things you’d like them to think, feel, and do when they experience your communication, when they read your email or letter, when they come to your event, and when they visit your website. Do you want them to think that you are a good investment? Should they feel pride in being part of your organization or hope in the solutions you bring to an issue? Do you want them to buy a ticket, share your story, apply for admission? Get really specific here. If there’s no clear call to action, it’s time to rethink the plan.

4) Measure what’s meaningful: The best way to know if you were successful is to define success in the beginning. Imagine that the letter has mailed, the event is over, the website is launched. What would make you, and the rest of the team, say, “Well, that was a good use of our time and money. THAT was a success”? You may refer to your strategic plan or your fundraising or community engagement goals for ideas here, and you can track things like the number of new donors, size of gift, or website visitors. But you can also define success by receiving personal emails from Board members who are more invested in your cause than ever, or having your Executive Director share your new Impact Report with her peers because she is proud of it. Define your success in the beginning, measure it in the end.

These four steps are flexible and can be done with a group or solo, whether you’re creating an email to a major gift prospect or a website for your entire organization. You’ll be amazed at how the shift in perspective brings clarity to your creative process.