What losing luggage can teach us about donor communications

Recently, I had a frustrating experience – my luggage was mistakingly taken by a fellow air traveler. As I travel often, I always check my baggage planeside. And so, on one trip I got off the plane, waited for my luggage to be brought up the jetway and after a few minutes, left empty handed. Seems another passenger came off the plane, mistook my bag for theirs and off they went.

Before this incident I never personalized my standard, black roller-board luggage with anything other than an almost hidden contact information card. There was no need to adorn my bag with brightly colored ribbons or large stickers, or any other outrageous identifying symbols. I could quickly scan a rack of luggage and easily identify my bag every time. I knew what my bag looked like for goodness sake!

But this incident encouraged me to think differently about the way my luggage looked. You see, I realized I didn’t need the brightly colored ribbons on my bag, but other passengers needed to see such identifiers. Making my bag easily identifiable added information value for them. Simply put, it would help other passengers recognize my bag was not theirs!

Then I started thinking about how some organizations interact with donors. Far too often, I’m afraid, we communicate with donors from our perspective. Whether it is an annual fund direct mail letter or a major gift proposal, we communicate in a “tell and sell” fashion. In other words, we make the mistake, like I did, of communicating with donors in the same way that I viewed my luggage – from our perspecitve instead of from their perspective.

My luggage epiphany reminded me that we should always communicate with donors in ways that provide value to and for them – not us. Had I taken such an approach with my luggage a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been without my clothes for the better part of a day!


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