Why solar eclipses are terrible for fundraising

It’s been a week since the nation collectively gathered to experience one of nature’s most awe-inspiring events: a total eclipse of the sun.

At See3, a few of us gathered in our office’s little back courtyard, passing around a few pairs of viewing glasses (as recommended by our clients at Foundation Fighting Blindness and so many other smart folks; not everybody followed directions, of course), collectively ooh-ing and ah-ing whenever the clouds broke enough to give us a glimpse of this very cool event. While we work in digital and love the power and potential of technology to bring people together to make change, sometimes you just gotta get outside and look up. Right? Totally. (See what I did there?)

But solar eclipses are actually terrible for fundraising. And community engagement. And recruiting volunteers.

No, it’s not because the 3-ish minute celestial event is a distraction from opening your organization’s donation page. Though, to be fair, Netflix did see a 10 percent dip in viewing during the time of eclipse and reacted to it like, well, a delightfully delusional, needy ex:

Netflix Solar Eclipse Tweet

It’s because as nonprofit professionals, our job is to be the moon.

Too many nonprofits share messaging that makes them the sun. It’s all about them. It’s often just plain braggy. In a world where we’re all looking to prove our relevance to our audiences, talking only about ourselves - positioning ourselves as the sun - is a recipe for getting ignored.

The moon’s light doesn’t come from its own power. It’s a reflection of the sun. (Science!)

Anything do-gooders do, any light we put out into the world, is driven by our mission’s supporters - donors, volunteers, board members… Our job is to reflect their light. Our messaging should reflect (ha, so many puns) that truth.

So when the moon goes and blocks the sun - well, it’s bad behavior. And, moreover, it prevents the light from getting through in the first place.

Here’s a quick test to see if you’re eclipsing your supporters -

Don some protective eyewear and take a glance at your last few pieces of messaging. How many times do you use the word “you”? As in, “your donation is feeding twenty hungry families in our community,” or “you showed up to the Vigil Against Hate and raised your voice…” You get the idea.

Now compare that to the number of times you use the word “we.” The work “we” do. The important impact “we” are making. It’s deceptive language because it feels inclusive and welcoming. In reality, “we” language relegates your organization’s supporters to the role of sidekick (when, really, everybody wants to be the hero). Using more “you” language - and a lot of it, over and over, like way more than you think is appropriate - is a great way to begin shifting the focus and better engaging the people who really make your impact possible.

You’re not the sun; your supporters are. So be the moon. Just resist the urge to eclipse.

How does your organization put your supporters front and center? Drop us a line and share your examples and bad eclipse jokes!

Author: Miriam Brosseau
  • Donors
  • DoGooder
  • Fundraising
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