Do you talk about patients or research in your appeals?

‘People give to people’ is the old adage, and successful fundraising letters and emails are illustrated with photos and stories about hopeful, hungry children and homeless people. But does it work in healthcare fundraising?

We have found, time and again, that stories about research produce better fundraising results than those about patients. Imagine, a fact-filled, scientific explanation of some new technology producing more, and bigger, gifts, than a heart-rending or -warming story of a patient helped by the same technology! Exactly.

It’s not  just Amergent’s results, either. Recently John Graves and Dennis Lonergan of Eidolon Communications presented some test results at DMAW’s DM201 workshop. Here are two letters they tested side by side for a hospital:

dm201-creative-testing-lonergan-graves1            dm201-creative-testing-lonergan-graves2

The letter on the left is a story about how a new technology saved a patient’s life. The letter on the right is all about the technology itself. The tech-heavy letter, according to Graves and Lonergan, produced 43% more gifts, and a 3x lift in average gift (from $27 to $83)!

Why? That’s a trick question. I’m reminded by my very first bosses in direct marketing that “why” doesn’t matter. It’s tempting to speculate, however, and my speculation is that every family has a patient story, but technology reflects the hope of the future.

So, people may indeed give to people, but the people to whom people are giving might be research scientists and laboratory technicians.

What research stories do you tell? Do you have testing data that contradict ours?

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Great stories are fundraising gold

Athletic wear company Nike is great at telling stories. One features an 80-year-old man who runs 17 miles a day. He says, “Friends ask me how I keep my teeth from chattering in the really cold weather. It’s simple: I leave ‘em in my locker!”

The point is so clear it doesn’t need to be said: If this old man can run 17 miles every day, why can’t you? And, Nike will provide the clothes and sneakers to do it.

We need to tell our stories, too. Just as creatively and just as succinctly.

I recently had the chance to tour a nonprofit cancer research center. I met a young researcher newly arrived from Finland. He spoke articulately in heavily accented English about how he has adapted some robotics technology to slice cells into ultra-thin portions so that more tests can be done and much more quickly than in the past. The doctor in charge of the lab said that last week, this young man ran more tests than had ever been run in the entire history of the lab up to that point.

This story is powerful to those who are touched by cancer. It says that progress is being made in a very measurable way. It shows what I call bite-sized progress – progress people can understand, appreciate and help to fund.

Giving $100 to cure cancer feels a lot like fighting the National Debt by saving $100 in Medicare costs. It feels like no progress at all. But giving $100 to help fund the laboratory where they have dramatically increased the speed of tests on cancer cells… that’s tangible evidence of progress!

Your nonprofit has great stories to tell, too. Get past the memos and sanitized grant requests, and talk to the young people in the lab, the volunteers reading to patients, the healthcare providers who celebrate their patients’ recoveries.

Take a video camera and record them in their workplace. Capture their energy. Explain, in layman’s terms, how they are making bite-sized progress. Then tell those stories in words, pictures and video, in the mail, on YouTube, Facebook and email. Explain how the donor’s $100 will fund measurable progress. Help the donors to feel that they’re making a difference. That’s all they want!

Do you have a good story? Tell us about it here!