Listening to author Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” I was reminded of a trap that I often fall into while researching donor prospects.
Through web searches, wealth screenings and giving histories, I begin to develop a profile that guides my assumptions, strategies and engagement plans. From my research, I begin to understand who the donor is and how he or she might connect to a given cause.
Or do I?
As Ms. Adichie points out, when we base our perceptions of a person from limited data and knowledge, we are in real danger of building and perpetuating their “single story.”
Please don’t misunderstand me. There is great value in prospect research to understand giving trends and capacity. My point is that capacity is only one part of the donor engagement formula. Understanding a prospect’s interest is most often the key to unlocking the potential of a deeper connection.
In fact, the most effective way to better understand someone is to visit with them, ask questions and listen! Too often we think we know someone by his or her reputation or public image. Sometimes we simply define someone by their net worth, occupation or past achievements. We fall into the trap of the “single story.”
If you want to truly understand your potential donors, seek to know them beyond their single story. Bruce Berglund, President of Donor By Design, often asks people when he meets them to share their life story from birth to today in 5 minutes. While people are initially surprised by this question, they spend the next 5 minutes (often longer) sharing the many facets of their life journey, including their passions, dreams, victories, disappointments and lessons learned.
Those stories tell us so much more about what inspires, motivates and compels a donor than a simple glimpse at their giving history and net worth ever could.
If you want to go deep, push beyond the trap of the single story.
Watch this powerful TED Talk for yourself: