Connecting with the benefactor inside us

Connecting the beneficiary inside us


A guest blog by Anne McCrossan.

Writing puts a spotlight on how very incomplete the communication process can be. In committing words to a page and trying to make a connection, the furthest we can only ever go is halfway.

There’s a special kind of challenge that comes from realising how incomplete we are without being able to know the reaction the words create.

This is what’s at the core of the biggest challenge of every fundraiser, isn’t it? Connecting with the benefactor inside us. Benefaction, taken literally, is about making something happen with goodwill. The word comes from two words originally in Latin – ‘bene’ the good, and ‘factor’, from ‘facere’, the desire to make. Together then, this describes the benefactor as someone who inherently wants to make good things happen.

I’d been thinking about this idea of benefaction for a while when the other day someone gave me a Values document from a charity, for its staff, that made me think about it again.

This was a booklet talking about the values of the organisation for those at the heart of it, the people who get it, people who are giving dozens of hours every week to try to make it happen.

Yet the voice in this booklet was disembodied and disembowelled, anonymous and unfeeling. It began with ‘At [insert charity name here] we recognise that [we have to do insert task here] and carried on with a series of passive commands phrased as [‘Let’s].

The result was that, as an attempt at reaching over the communications’ divide and connecting with the benefactor in me, it backfired. I could only feel sad and disappointed. My benefaction was to want to step up to the call, but that had been completely evaporated.

Somehow, the organisation had got in the way of the human connection. This matters in a networked world because, in networks, human connection makes organisation, not the other way around.

This is the dynamic that creates action potential. It’s at the heart of benefaction too. The personal touch of the unexpected moves us, so does the sincerity that comes with daring to be original. Non-conformism in human connection gives rise to hope and possibility around the wanting to do good, not as a mechanical process, as a spontaneous feeling. We want people to be moved, roused, hopeful and excited, to want to be a part of the challenge that fundraising is.

A great idea obviously copy written can’t do this. And we’re getting more and more adept and seeing through the memes and clichés. Have a look at this video of Taylor Marli in action about the way people talk up at the end of sentences.

It’s a humorous illustration of the way we adopt protocols to stay safe and, once we see through them, their spell is broken.

Great fundraising communication encourages these innate desires we have to want to do good. Human nature is such that we revel in and value the quality of the experiences we have so, to be interesting, things can’t be formulaic, we have to connect with conviction.

There are clearly advantages to developing communications methods that can scale and the industrial charity complex has some real strengths going for it. Many charities have valuable communication assets to think of – a big name brand, a clearly identifiable proposition and a structural approach that can create communication that can reach as many as possible on a regular basis.

Culturally it’s a challenge to enable environments in which it’s ok not to play safe and to measure their value. Big data analytics enable levels of insight and awareness that can help. There are A/B tests and algorithms to develop and choose from, but the big data angle needs balancing with intuitive and intimate connection too.

There are signs in fact now, validated by data, that the model of the industrial sized charity might actually be getting in the way of encouraging benefaction. And benefaction rather than fundraising is the word being used here quite deliberately because, in networks, time and attention, love and advocacy and money are all connected.

The Visceral Business 2013 Social Charity Study has been gathering data across nearly 300 charities over a period of the last three years. Our findings indicate that in industrialised large-scale charities, there is often less of a relationship between funds raised and their numbers of supporters, and that in large charities supporters are disproportionately less likely to share content.

We’re coming to an interesting conclusion here that big isn’t necessarily always best that is being verified by data. A small charity designed for digital can track where money goes, donation by donation. So can a Kickstarter campaign or a heartfelt three-minute video on YouTube, measurably and positively reinforcing the sense of benefaction.

This takes me back to the beginning. Trusting that this is a two-way process and the other half is out of our hands creates an insight, which is this: We can’t ever know the reaction that anything we say or write will get, but writing it from the heart can connect with the benefactor in all of us, the spirit to want to do good, and the hope that we can.

Anne is the founding partner at Visceral Business and specialises in major brand-led organisational change. A social business specialist and TEDx speaker, Anne has worked with some of the world’s most influential organisations. You can follow her on Twitter @Annemcx.

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