I’m one of those people who likes finding stuff out. And I like remembering it too. It’s one of my party tricks to take new-ish members of the Burnett Works team by surprise after they’ve been here a few weeks and rattle off everything they have ever told me about themselves, about their other halves, about their commute to work. Some people look a bit alarmed at the roll call of information but reassuring colleagues step in and tell them not to worry; that not everyone here is like me.
So it’s just as well that I get to exercise my talent in a more professional capacity – when I speak to supporters. For the process-driven amongst you, look away now. Because I never follow a tight script. I promise I do prepare properly, and I have a sense of the kinds of things that I want to explore – usually over the phone – but I never sound like a machine reciting a script.
And this is why I learn so much about your donors, campaigners, fundraisers, members and volunteers. And about the people that just might be supporters, given the right approach.
I learn about daughters moving back to be closer to their mothers while they undergo treatment for breast cancer. I learn of a brother who took his life around the time his sister was diagnosed with cancer. I learn about the people who hold a fundraising event in your honour but kick themselves when they forget to invite the local press, and wish that part of your process could help remind them to do that. I learn how comfy, or not, people are at asking their friends and family for money for your charity’s fundraising event. I ask them – in normal language – about why they think you might be grappling with such a big conversion problem. I learn about how they have had to put their desire to have children to one side and focus on staying alive. And all the grief and pain that gets wrapped up in this.
I’ve learnt that there is a wisdom that comes from their experience. Their connection to your cause often runs incredibly deep. And that it is my job – to tap into it. And to make them feel safe as they tell me their story.
I spoke to a supporter at 8 o’clock one evening this week. I thought she was squeezing me in before she had to cook her dinner. But she was on the phone for an hour, brimming over with interesting, wise observations on why she would be more inclined to support a research charity as opposed to a care charity, and what the care charity could and should do to become more meaningful to her.
I could read a great big dollop of audience research – which I love doing too – but I wouldn’t have got to that depth. Or to that insight. In the way that sticks. That comes from a place of truth and not spin.
I consider it a total privilege to speak to your supporters. And to the ones who maybe skirt about at the edges of your charity, to probe why that’s as far as they have chosen to go.
It’s an easy cop out to create flavour-less pen portraits of your audiences. Their lives are a thousand times more interesting than that. So, if you do one thing differently this week let it be taking the time to find out about your supporters and their lives. Hearing their voices ringing in your ears will always pay dividends.