Jeff Brooks of Donor Power Blog has a thoughtful post on the tension between the actual work of a nonprofit, and the perceptions or messages that attract contributed income. His case in point is ”Old Man Eating,” a perennial fundraising photo archetype used among urban rescue missions. ”Old Man Eating,” or OME as Brooks and his colleagues call the class of images, is extraordinarily effective in eliciting passion and contributions. It makes for a successful campaign.
The problem is, Brooks suggests, that OME is not particularly representative of the predominant clients of urban rescue missions (women with children and young adults), and that staff and leadership are getting tired of a tactic that doesn’t quite feel true.
But it works. Says Brooks:
It’s fundraising dissonance. The image that touches people’s heart, that motivates them to give is Old Man Eating. Even though he’s not the real picture of the need. Even though these very same donors know that helping younger people is more needful and impactful. The fact is, the decision to give is an emotional one, not a rational one. Emotional triggers, not rational ones, are those that motivate giving. And OME is a potent emotional trigger.
Brooks’ response? Acknowledge the dissonance, and get over it. Says he:
Meet donors where they are — not where you wish they’d be. Put forth the need that motivates them to respond. Then, you’ll find, you earn the right to have the conversation with them about what you do, and who you (and they) serve. Those who are ready to move beyond the gut reaction to OME will do just that.
So, what image of your work are your donors buying? And does it have anything to do with the true picture of what you do? If not, do you have a problem with that?