Six Key Attributes of Sticky MessagesJuly 28, 2009 By Abny Santicola
Fundraisers spend time and resources creating messages for cases, proposals and campaigns. But how many of them actually stick?
In his session "Sticky Ideas: How to Make Your Fundraising Messages Powerful and Persuasive" at the 2009 Bridge Conference held last week near Washington, D.C., consultant Bernard Ross defined what makes ideas stick, why sticky ideas work and why they're essential to fundraising, and how they can be applied by fundraisers in their work with donors, board members and others.
Ross, director of U.K.-based consultancy The Management Centre, analyzed the following six key attributes of successful messages:
1. They’re simple
There are four key categories for fundraising propositions, Ross said: opportunity (something positive can be gained in the right now from funds raised), vision (something positive can be gained in the future), crisis (something negative will happen immediately if funds aren't raised) and risk (something negative will occur in the future if funds aren't raised).
Every proposition an organization has fits into one of these categories, and each has a psychological orientation to different groups of donors that can be as simple as a difference in the semantics of the way people think about change. For example, Ross said, some people want to move toward equality, while some want to move away from inequality.
Most nonprofits want "vision" to be what motivates people to give to their causes, but every pragmatic fundraiser knows that a crisis is a better motivator, he said.
2. They’re unexpected
People tune out of messages because they think, "I know this story. I'm going to hear about 'this' now." Because of that, Ross stressed fundraisers make their messages unexpected.
Creating mystery is key, he said, using the example of The Prince's Trust, an organization founded in the '70s by Prince Charles to improve the lives of disadvantaged young people in the U.K. A few years after the organization's founding, when Prince Charles met with senior business people to ask for money, he showed statistics on the organization's success rate its first and second years.
He asked the business leaders for a 25 percent increase in their giving for year threes, saying if they could all commit to that, the organization would be able to achieve a lower success rate. The business leaders looked around confused about what the prince had said, and then he explained that he wanted the organization to work with more challenging children and really live up to its mission. Because the organization would be tackling children with greater issues, its success rate wouldn't be as high as it had been, but it would be helping the neediest children.