The First Gift To Get From Donors: THEIR ATTENTION!

In his youth, and before his transformation into Superman, nine-year-old Man of Steel, Clark Kent loses it. Before running from his classroom in a crazed dash, his x-ray vision, and super-sensitive hearing drive him into a state of mad frenzy. He covers his ears, bolts into a janitor’s closet, and locks the door.

The ability to hear all the sounds in the world and see everything is driving him crazy.

Clark's teacher races after him, begging him to open the door. Leave me alone, he pleads.

The story takes a turn when his mother appears and speaks softly to Clark through the locked door.

The world is too big, he says.

Focus on my voice, she says. Pretend it is an island out in the ocean. Can you see it?

Making the effort to block out all the world’s sounds competing for his attention, Clark focuses on his mom’s voice. He sees the island.

Swim towards it, honey, she says.

The key to Clark’s deliverance is his mom’s ability to get to focus and give her his attention.

Like Clark Kent’s mom, the savvy fundraiser understands that getting potential donors’ attention is the first gift they should seek for.

In a world saturated with information, like young Clark Kent, information overload is our daily experience. Words like infobesity, infoxication, information anxiety, information explosion, TMI, attention economy, and attention theft describe the world that we live in.

In 1986 we were presented with an average of forty newspapers worth of information each day. In 2011 that number jumped to one-hundred-seventy-four! (read more here). WHERE ARE WE TODAY, IN 2022?

Our donors suffer from what is being called the infobesity epidemic.

Being bombarded with the equivalent of hundreds of newspapers’ worth of information every day forces us to ignore almost all of it.

The biggest product of the information explosion economy is a lack of attention.

Like young Clark Kent, potential donors ignore most of the messages aimed at them and struggle to find the voices they trust and will give their attention to.

The savvy visionary fundraiser understands that the first gift they need to work hard to get and keep is their donors’ attention.

This attention scarcity shows up when I retrieve snail-mail at my house. It is why I sort and open my mail at the garbage can. I THROW AWAY MORE THAN HALF THE MAIL I RECEIVE. I THROW IT AWAY UNOPENED.


It happens when I glance at my Facebook and LinkedIn newsfeed. I SCROLL PAST 90% OF THE POSTS.

So, what does the savvy visionary fundraiser do? Begin to treat your donors’ attention as a precious gift.

Your donors’ attention is a unique gift that must be appreciated, cultivated, and stewarded.

How do we steward our donors’ attention?

1. Tell Well-Crafted Stories

Stories are the currency that fundraisers collect to pay their donors for their gifts (Read more here).

I find nonprofits don’t know the difference between information and a story. They print newsletters filled with information. They send emails filled with information. They do social media posts full of information. They brag on themselves, their staff, their buildings and even their beneficiaries, BUT THEY DON'T TELL STORIES.

Like a great one-liner, a story always starts with a problem, presents the solution and the result. I like to call it the bloody hand (read more here)!

In a world of information-glut, more information will not get your donors’ attention. ONLY A STORY THAT GRABS AND KEEPS THEIR ATTENTION WILL WORK.

Notice I said well-crafted stories. The science and art of storytelling is a worthy pursuit for the successful fundraiser. Well-crafted stories grab the reader’s attention in the first sentence. Paul O’Neill says:

“Always grab the reader by the throat in the first paragraph, send your thumbs into his windpipe in the second, and hold him against the wall until the tagline.” ― Paul O’Neill.

Visionary communicators in today's information economy pay the price to master the art and science of storytelling.

2. Appreciate Margin: Say More With Less

Because of infobesity, there is a revolution going on now in marketing and promotion that visionary fundraisers must understand: saying more with less.

Big business has learned that consumers are attracted to “less is more.” The early adopters who have caught on are selling more and edging out their competition.

Saying more with less is essential in:

  • Your emails

  • Your social media posts

  • Your website

  • Your giving page

  • Your newsletters

  • Your appeals

If you don’t understand margin, you are likely trying to say too much in all your collateral (read more here).

Saying more with less means using short two or three-line paragraphs, clever use of bold and italic emphasis, headlines, photo captions, bullet lists, and pull quotes.

“Attention is scarce and fleeting. You better figure out how it works, what people naturally pay attention to, and why.” - Ben Parr

3. Communicate Quickly

Savvy fundraisers understand the difference in face-to-face communications and digital and print communications. When you and I meet face-to-face over a meal or coffee, we take the time to catch up with each other, we patiently listen and ask a lot of questions. BUT, in digital and print collateral, we get to the point quickly, understanding that if we don't we will be ignored. The fundraiser that doesn't catch this will never be fully funded.

Great fundraisers communicate quickly in their digital and print collateral.

Great fundraisers are not shy about inviting people to join with them in changing the world. They make it clear up front that they are asking for money. It is a message that if donors hear, they will respond to!

Your donors' attention is a scarce resource that you must intentionally understand, appreciate and steward. Savvy visionary fundraisers are students of what people pay attention to and why.

Keep stewarding your donors’ attention, saying thank you, and telling stories all the way to the bank, and until the world is changed!


P.S. Are you doing your fundraising alone without a trusted coach? Consider joining the Minor Touches To Major Impact Fundraising Accelerator with me.

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