Engaging Donors Through Their Senses

Here’s the reality:  every day marketers fill mailboxes with more direct mail packages, call more homes with pitches, place more advertisements on radio and tv (remember when cable tv meant that there was no advertising?), and fill more magazine pages with ads.

And consumers are overwhelmed and not paying much attention anymore.  According to David Shenk, in 1965, consumers reported recalling 34% of television ads.  By 1990, that number dropped to 8%.

Between the messaging deluge and the fact that we are remembering less of what marketers are delivering to us, I remain unconvinced that a strategy of repeatedly delivering fundraising appeals through traditional “channels” (face-to-face, phone, direct mail, magazines, even electronically) will bring the levels of gift income your organization needs or deserves.

What if, instead of focusing so much on the channels, we investigated how our donors experience our institutional brand?  What specific experiences do our donors have when they interact with our institution?  And, then, how do we repeatedly engage the senses of our donors and remind them why supporting our institution is important?

In his book, Brand Sense, Martin Lindstrom suggests that we should craft a “Five Dimensional Brand.”  We should communicate our institutional brand through the five senses:

  • Sight – the most seductive and powerful of all the  senses – colors impact our emotions and images reinforce beliefs;
  • Sound – has the ability to generate mood – just remember how you feel when you hear a favorite song from your college days;
  • Smell – research shows that a full 75% of our emotions are generated by smell;
  • Touch – has the power to increase well-being which is why we want to “stay in touch,” or feel “touched” when something good happens;
  • Taste – the weakest of our five senses, but the power of eating an agreeable meal with friends is well understood.

So, how can we use the five senses in our work as advancement professionals?  Here are questions that immediately come to mind:

  • Does your direct mail packaging always deliver a distinctive touch and sight?  For instance, what paper stock do you use for the envelope – standard #10 or distinctive to your organization?
  • What about the smells and tastes you deliver during events?  Have you thought about establishing a branded smell at your events?  I know some admissions offices at colleges that spray the scent of freshly-baked brownies so that prospective new students will be reminded of a “warm, home smell.”
  • And what about sound?  What distinctive song or tune could you incorporate on your web-page, at events, or through e-solicitations which would remind donors of why your institution is worthy of support?

Yes, we should strategize around the channels we use to communicate with donors and prospective donors.  But by itself, that is not enough.  When we communicate through all five senses we give our institution the opportunity to create deeply-personal relationships with donors – relationships that encourage donors to remember us fondly.


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