A cartoon man offering up flowers to potential e marketing prospects and clients

Imagine you’re single, looking for a new long-term relationship. You enter a room full of strangers and see someone whom you find attractive. You walk over, introduce yourself, and converse. You deliver some of your best material—funny anecdotes about yourself, details about your high-powered career, evidence of your passionate, yet sensitive side. The stranger is smiling at you, laughing at your jokes, making eye contact, enjoying your company.

And then you deliver the call to action: “Please marry me!”

Whoa, now, Romeo! Not so fast. Juliet dashes out the door.

Seems crazy, huh? Then why do so many fundraisers follow the same playbook when courting donors?

Imagine a fundraiser. A stranger visits the web site. It includes some great information about the cause and one call-to-action: Donate now.

Whoa, now, Fundraiser! Not so fast.

Let’s give Romeo a do-over:  The stranger is smiling at you, laughing at your jokes, making eye contact, enjoying your company. And then the call to action: “May I have your email. I’ll send you some pictures of my mountain climbing expedition I told you about…” Juliet is happy to oblige. Will she marry him? Maybe; maybe not. But he’s in the game.

Let’s give the fundraiser a do-over: The stranger visits the site, which has a “donate now” button, plus an offer for something of interest and value – a free report, a special gift, a subscription to a newsletter. Many who don’t want to donate now may raise their hands for the lower-risk offer. Will they donate eventually? Maybe; maybe not. But the fundraiser is in the game.

Courting is a process, not an event.  Every marketing message you create has three possible responses – yes, no, and maybe.

As Romeo demonstrated in his do-over, you have to give the maybes a reason to raise their hands, a reason to say, “Yes, I’ll take another step with you.” Otherwise, they have walked away and you have no chance to continue the courting process.

SmileTrain, a non-profit that provides surgery to repair cleft lips and palates, markets to the maybes on its web site (www.smiletrain.org). The web site has a “Donate Now” button near the top of the page, but the page also offers a free copy of SmileTrain’s award-winning documentary called Smile Pinki. Without that offer, the maybes who are not ready to donate will visit the site and leave. SmileTrain fundraisers would have no relationship with them.

You don’t need an award-winning film to market to the maybes.  What can you offer maybes that will entice them to raise their hands? Such offers should be in all of your marketing messages, not just your web site. Offering an email newsletter is a good start. But you must tout the benefits of subscribing (don’t just plop a signup box on your site with the heading “join our mailing list.”), and you must place the signup request in a prominent spot on your site.

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