We’ve all been in a social setting – perhaps a theatre prior to a performance – when a voice comes over the public address system and calmly states, “In the unlikely event of an emergency. . .” Or, if you board a airplane, you will certainly hear the phrase, “In the unlikely event of a water landing. . .” Following these phrases will come important safety instructions of what to do should the worst scenarios occur.
If you think about the wording of these phrases, they are crafted to communicate critical, but potential distressing information (yes, this plane may, in fact, fall right out of the sky!). But the language choice is designed to minimize the degree of anxiousness and concern among the masses. These events are “unlikely.” Additionally, the message is delivered in a serene tone that helps soothe any nervousness.
These messages are designed specifically to comfort and put the listener at ease.
Now, think about the way you might invite someone to make a significant gift? Are your words – the phrases you use – crafted to make the donor more comfortable from an emotional standpoint? Or, instead, are they words and phrases that, unconsciously, make you more emotionally comfortable? Think about who is put at ease with the following three opening statements:
- “I realize this would be a stretch gift for you, but would you consider giving. . .”
- “You already do so much for us, would you consider a gift of. . .”
- “I don’t like coming to you again, but would you consider a gift of. . .”
Yes, we should acknowledge and thank donors for their past volunteer or gift support, but because these opening statements are non-specific, apologetic, and submissive I would suggest they are crafted to make the solicitor more emotionally comfortable. Perhaps the solicitor doesn’t enjoy asking. Or, perhaps, the solicitor doesn’t fully believe that this ask should be made. Whatever the reason, the solicitor is more interested in protecting herself emotionally when she crafts her opening in these ways.
Additionally, these phrases actually reduce the chance that the prospective donor will joyfully accept the invitation to give. The solicitor is, in effect, making the case for why the prospect shouldn’t give. For example, the prospective donor might think to herself, “Yes, I have done a lot for them – maybe I’ve done enough!”
Now, consider the following three opening statements:
- “From your long history and support of our institution, it is clear our mission resonates deeply and personally with you. We are convinced that your next leadership-level gift will enable us to serve in ways we could only dream of three years ago. Will you consider giving. . .”
- “You have given in support of so many initiatives that have made a difference in the lives of others. We believe this program will have the biggest, positive impact yet and are inviting leadership donors like you to help us transform more lives. . .”
- “You have partnered with us in so many ways recently, and you’ve seen the progress we’ve been able to make on the issues that are important to you and our institution. That’s why today, we are excited to invite you to take a next step with us. . .”
While the prospect may have given just as much or just as often as in the first statements, these statements are crafted to make the prospect more emotionally comfortable – not the solicitor. By including phrases that remind the prospect why giving in support of your institution is of value to her, she feels known and understood as a person, not just as a checkbook. She is far more likely to give generously because your statements put her at ease.
Here is the interesting truth: When we use words and phrases that are designed to comfort us, we reduce the likelihood that the prospect will give generously. However, when we communicate in ways that put the prospect at ease – by confidently acknowledging their core interests and values and aligning them with our work – we greatly increase the chances of the prospect’s affirming response.
So, when you invite a donor to give, who are making more comfortable?