How to Design a High Holiday Appeal for the Attention Economy

Somethings never change. Somethings are always changing.

The fundamentals of fundraising are constant. You hear staple ideas like invest in donor cultivation, and “you have to spend money to make money.”

More than anything, you need to get the attention of your prospective donors before you can even make the case for why they should make a donation. And today we’re working in an attention economy as much as we are a dollars economy.

This time of year, those raising money for synagogues are well aware of the attention economy. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur many Jews — even those who rarely step foot inside a synagogue during the rest of the year — go to services for these holidays. They are ‘captive’ in their seats while the president of the congregation gives a passionate call for donations to the ‘High Holiday Appeal.’ So you’d think that they have been handed the golden opportunity – hundreds of donors with no distractions. Maybe, but maybe not.

The High Holiday Appeal may have worked really well for a previous generation when people identified as “belonging” to an organization and saw their participation in such an appeal as a given. But fundraising today — in a post-recession, millennial-generation, digital world — is different than it was even a decade ago. Why?

Donors want to feel like their contribution is making an important difference, rather than perpetuating the status quo. While millennial donors may not (yet) have huge sums to give, they want to know their modest donation ($10, $50, $100) makes a difference.

Charity:Water, for example, provides updates on the difference your $10 donation makes over a multi-year cycle of planning, implementation, and change on the ground. Donors want to support the cause, not just the institution.

Millennials especially are ‘institution skeptics.’ Empowered with tools and collaboration from a young age, they are all about getting it done, and might see institutions as bureaucratic roadblocks rather than cause-enablers.

Storytelling connects the heart, the mind (and the wallet). In today’s crowded media landscape, only the most compelling and well-told stories penetrate the empathetic membrane, so think carefully about how and why you tell your stories. Goldie’s Place, a support center for the homeless in Chicago, does a great job of this through social media with before and after photos of their clients. These side by side photos show how a donation transformed this woman’s life. Better teeth = employability.

Goldie's Place helps homeless Chicago residents




(Photo Courtesy: Goldie's Place Facebook)

Affecting change together is more fun than doing it alone. In any situation, feeling part of a movement is motivating. Think about breast cancer walks and Hazon bike rides. Training and participating together is powerful. So is rallying your network to chip in and donate.

That’s why these fundraising models have been so powerful for years and years. The more recent crowdfunding phenomenon draws on the same social ties and motivations (even if good ideas die in small networks, and mediocre ideas get funded in strong networks).

Ultimately, each one of us wants to MATTER. In her recent book Matterness, author Allison Fine talks about how people want to feel like they matter, and how organizations should design for this.

While presenting at a recent synagogue board and staff retreat, I asked the group of about 45 people to share with the person next to them a time when they really felt like they mattered. In an overheard conversation, a gentleman shared that he volunteers by talking with families who have a child diagnosed with cancer. As a cancer survivor himself (at a time with far fewer medical advances), sharing his experiences gives these families reasons to be hopeful.

I asked the group, how many people heard a story about a time when you felt like you mattered because you received something, like an award. One hand went up.

My next question, "How many feel like you mattered when you gave something?" Forty-four hands went up.

At this time of year, the Jewish community is reflecting on its past year. People want to give. They want to matter. They want to feel part of something larger than themselves.

Even when your donors are a captive audience, design your stories for the very human experience of contributing to making the world a better place. The attention economy is a human economy. Design for it and the dollars will follow.

Want to learn more about what gets donors to give? Watch the recording from our latest webinar The Science of Giving or check out the slides on slideshare

Author: Lisa Colton
  • Fundraising
  • Holidays
  • Donors