This week, the 49th annual Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International Conference was held in Vancouver, British Columbia. In addition to sessions that addressed topics ranging from donor relations to planned giving, General Sessions each day brought together all 4,000 attendees to hear inspirational messages from Scott Harrison, Founder and President of charity:water; visionaries Al Pittampali, Liz Wiseman, and Norm Brodsky, hosted by 12gurus:Charity (formerly NextGen:Charity) co-founder and standup comedian Ari Teman; and the conference ended with a moving presentation by hockey legend and philanthropist, Wayne Gretzky. These accomplished individuals not only told their own success stories, but they also shared some of their failures and a few of the lessons that they learned along the way.
Not surprisingly, many of the presentations revolved around the need for nonprofits to be savvy in the use of social media and computer graphics, in order to communicate their messages more quickly and succinctly. This was perhaps demonstrated best by Scott Harrison, when he explained how charity:water actually tracks every dollar it raises!
When he first brought clean and safe drinking water to people in need, Scott was able to personally witness how the lives of those individuals were changed. That experience, in turn, changed him as well, and he began looking for some way to provide a similar, life-changing experience for his donors.
Today, by employing GPS mapping technology, charity:water is able to let its donors see the exact point on the globe where their dollars are being employed to drill a water well. Photographs of the project, posted online throughout the process, convey the actual reactions of people when locally produced, clean water is available to them for the first time. This allows the donor to follow his or her gift, and be connected with the people it ultimately impacts. On the downside, Scott also gave an example of a well that was not successful on the first attempt; he spoke about the disappointment shared by both the donors and the recipients, even though they were thousands of miles apart.
Several elements make this model incredibly successful: (1) the ability of the donor to track their individual gift; (2) the fact that the donor can “see”, practically in real-time, the impact that they are making, and (3) the heavy use of photos, not words, to tell a story. Although all three of these elements may not be feasible for most nonprofits, consider how they could be adapted to fit your organization. Certainly, relying more on visuals and less on words is key to the swift delivery of a message; it also increases its chances of being received. Lastly, consider how communicating a “failed attempt” would be perceived by your donors. Might your successes then be deemed that much more valuable?