Engagement – Do You Pass The Honesty Test?

We talk a lot in the voluntary sector about engaging our donors, our volunteers, our staff…or even (dreaded word that should be banned) our “stakeholders”. But what do we really mean by this? What we are usually saying is, please do something for us. Please give us £20, or Tuesday afternoons, or your very best efforts Monday to Friday 9-5 no-surreptitious- facebook-posting-or-sloping-off-for-a-long-lunch.

How often do we truly seek to engage? Google tells me that engage means “to occupy or attract someone’s interest or attention.” What would happen if we put aside our agendas, and wholly and honestly focused on being interesting and attention-worthy? In terms of fundraising, perhaps we would feel freer to let our creative instincts fly…and who knows might generate even more income.

Some ideas…

1. Listening

“She listened to him all night and he found her fascinating” (Vanna Bonta, an American poet whose varied accomplishments include writing a haiku that was sent to Mars and inventing a travel shoe that converts from flats to heels). I made some calls for African rights charity recently, to find out what motivated their donors and volunteers. As well as providing these insights, being in undiluted listening mode elicited:

  • an offer of some pro bono sessions on raising money over the phone, from one of their donors who happened to work in charity telemarketing
  • a partnership opportunity with a related charity, suggested by a volunteer whose day job was in marketing that charity
  • spontaneous offers to renew from two lapsed regular givers!

2. Showing not telling

On sites such as match.com (yes ok I speak from long experience) there is nothing more tedious than trawling through hundreds of profiles affirming that their owner has “a good sense of humour”. It is much more enlivening to read something that demonstrates an ability to see the funny side of life, by being actually funny. Many charities are very adept at showcasing what they do by having the beneficiaries themselves speak about how their lives have changed, rather than citing a list of services.

However any organisation can fall prey from time to time to an internal focus. Beware vision or mission statements that include an aspiration to be the “largest organisation/provider of X/Y/Z” instead of pursuing an external goal to eradicate or relieve a problem. Only the HR director is interested in how many staff you have.

3. Being yourself

Have a personality. It doesn’t matter if you’re earnest or quirky, but figure out which and stick to it. You’ll attract like-minded souls who genuinely appreciate who you are and what you are trying to achieve. I donate to international development charity Send A Cow for example, partly because I used to run a coaching business called Cows From My Window (don’t ask, it was a metaphorical thing).


4. Thanking

If someone is giving you their attention, whether in the form of time or money, it’s only polite to acknowledge it.

This summer I adopted a lion for my daughter Elsa’s 9th birthday (she is named after the lion in Born Free) and I must say WWF have been most solicitous about ensuring we remain on board. We have received monthly emails with titles such as: “Do you love lions?” inviting us to celebrate World Lion Day (it’s August 10th by the way) “Great e-cards of lions!” “Amazing wallpapers of lions!” And my favourite – “Watch a lovely video of lions!” Every email thanks us for our ongoing support, as well as providing titbits of information (did you know there were lions in Europe until 2,000 years ago?). Apart from the fact that my daughter would kill me, I daren’t ever cancel my direct debit as I wouldn’t want to disappoint the sweetly devoted e-comms team at WWF.

So that’s my starter for 4.

How do you honestly engage your current or would-be supporters? What are some other great examples you’ve observed?