Who Cares?

When I was in graduate school, I had on my committee Dr. Norma Mertz, a wonderfully blunt New Yorker.  Not only was she blunt, but her insight was exceptional. When she listened to a student discuss a possible dissertation topic, one of her favorite ways to bring clarity to rambling was to firmly (and sometimes loudly) ask, “Who cares?”

With this simple but pointed question, she was asking her students to gain clarity around the purpose of our work.  “Who cares?” was the short way of saying, “Why will this study be important?  Why would someone want to read this?”  She was a stickler.  It always had to be important and you better be able to answer the question, “Who cares?”

Fast-forward to my email in-box yesterday morning when I received an email from Men’s Fitness.  Here is part of it (and, yes, I kid you not):

  • Lose the fat eating what you want!
  • Lose weight eating pizza, steak, and tacos!
  • Build lean muscle – no gym required!
  • Take your belly off – and keep it off for life!
  • Banish stress and sleep better!
  • Feel more energized!

I normally trash these emails without reading them.  However, I lingered on this one and laughed.  I mean, c’mon.  We all know you can’t eat what you want and still lose weight.  Eating what I want is what got me feeling like I need to lose weight in the first place!  But I digress.

I started to think, “why do companies continually send these emails with ridiculous claims?”  And then I thought, “because they work – they focus on what is important to the reader!”  Yes, I do want to “build lean muscle,” and “take my belly off,” etc.  These things are about me and they are important.

Who cares?  Many of the people reading this email will care, that’s who.

So, then I thought about how we sometimes communicate with our donors.  We talk about constructing buildings, we focus on total dollars raised, we create case statements that focus on all of the “things” that we will build, renovate, create, etc.,  as a result of charitable giving.  All nice and perhaps even impressive.  But really, “who cares?”

Most donors don’t support our work because we construct buildings, or because we have a goal to grow our endowment.  They support us because we save and transform lives, communities, and, hopefully, our world.  They support us because we serve in ways that for-profit businesses won’t and that governments can’t.  We heal the sick, we feed the poor, we educate the student, we mentor the adolescent.  Simply put, we offer hope to people.

And this is what our donors care about.  They want to hear from the people whose lives have been positively impacted by our work.  Donors are moved by our stories of lives touched, devastating diseases cured, and the student who was not offered an education anywhere else but at your institution.  The new buildings we are constructing, the endowment we are growing, etc.,  are a means to that end, not the end itself.  Lead with people, not things.

Men’s Fitness understands this.  They didn’t send me a message focused on the fact that they are selling more magazines this year as compared to last.  They didn’t talk about the new headquarters they are constructing.  Instead, they sent a message focused on the interests of their customers.  The real cares of their customers.

The more we do the same for our donors – whether through direct mail, on our websites, in case statements, on the phone, in face-to-face meetings, or through social media – the more we will attract donors and gifts to our organization.

“Who cares?”  What a great question.


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