It's a Sonderful Life!

Sep 28, 2022

So, this month marks the 1 year anniversary of my youngest son getting out of the military. If you’ve never had a loved one in the military, just picture yourself holding your breath for years on end while watching your hair rapidly grey. Yeah, it’s kind of like that. Clearly, we are proud of his service to our county and equally happy to have him back home in Indiana once again.

But those first few months at Basic Training were rough on all of us. I’m sure it was tough on him, but it was also miserable for us as his parents because communication was next to nothing. We’d scan pictures of the training on the Army’s website in hopes we could just catch a glimpse of our solider. But, as awful as it sounds, they did all look alike. Army green, buzz haircuts, tired eyes. Sometimes, if they’d win a challenge, they might get a five minute phone call. There was no access to the media and certainly no music. Essentially, all they had to keep them mentally afloat and connected to their families was mail call. 

Just imagine what kind of letters this momma was writing to my son…our baby. I knew he missed music, so I included lyrics to his favorite songs and bands.  The days were long and full of back-breaking work. They were tired and lonely. And besides the sea of Army green, they rarely saw color. Just think about what your days would be like without lots of different colors. So, I sent memes and comics and anything from social media that I knew would give him something to smile about. Essentially, they were texts without a cell phone!

And that’s what I want to blog about today. The idea of understanding the people you are communicating with by realizing who they truly are—it’s a concept called sonder—and using what you know to communicate well.

Left Brain Marketing Methods:  Your left brain is all about logic and data, research and knowledge. Today I’d like to introduce you to the concept of sonder. While you won’t find sonder in any official English dictionary, both Urban Dictionary and the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows define it as a noun that means, the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness”.  It’s true. The important thing for you to remember is that realizing this could (and should) change how you choose to build relationships with your donors.

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Right Brain Marketing Moxie:  The cool thing about left brain marketing methods is that once you learn them, you can’t unknow them. That’s where right brain marketing moxie comes in. Your right brain can take that data that you’ve learned and can execute something beautiful with it—something that might really inspire your donors to take action. Because when you know better, you can do better.

Let’s think to ourselves, what a sonderful world!

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Left Brain Marketing Methods: Yes, there is a term called sonder that I only learned of a decade or so ago. But it’s a really cool idea. Possibly because we’re the egocentric star of our own show or maybe because we think of ourselves as different from our donors, we don’t typically remember that everyone—you, me, Joe Donor—everyone, is living an amazingly complex, beautifully tragic, and awesomely sonderful life. There are ups and downs. Weddings and funerals. Birthdays and literal birth days. Years when the stock market rises and years like 2022. We all have jobs and friends and families and mortgages. We’re all planning vacations and Sunday dinners and silver anniversary parties. We’re golfing and singing in the choir and laughing at movies and crying at books.

Add several of those birth days to any donor’s life and you get PTA meetings and field trips and school plays. Homecomings and proms and high school graduations. You get the cost of college and terrible first dates and the first fender bender. Add in a few of your own birthdays and you get more of that grey hair that I mentioned, aging parents, technology in a workplace that never existed when you started your career, a few weddings, grandbabies, and sadly some funerals.
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This is life as we know it. Your life. The life of your team. The life of your board members. And, yes, the life of your donors. Your left brain can literally tell you all these things. And because of that, it’s data. Vital data that can and should change how and what you communicate with your donors.

If you truly are building relationships with your donors, you learn a lot about them. And you should be communicating with them accordingly. For example, when my son was in Basic Training, I knew a lot about what the needed. He missed music and color and his family. So, I filled what I called newsletters with all of that. Each week, I’d create one of these infamous newsletters with everything he needed but didn’t have at his ready. Sometimes they’d be up to 14 pages long, double-sided, 11 X 17 pieces of paper. Every time he’d share them with other soldiers who didn’t get any mail or who also missed music and color and reminders that the world was still spinning even if they weren’t witnessing it at the moment. 

You have the chance every time you communicate with a donor or donor segment to bring them a message that’s just right for them. And, no, it doesn’t have to be boring. Yes, we do serious work, no question. But our donors are living a life of sonder, let’s meet them where they are, it’s only fair.

Right Brain Marketing Moxie:  It’s a blessing and a curse—you learn something new and you can’t unknow it. And thanks to this blog, you now know your donors think it’s a sonderful life. So, whatcha gonna do about it?

Recently, I had the privilege of being the keynote speaker at the Iowa Council of Foundation’s Annual Connect Conference. One of the really cool activities they asked me to help with was to come up with a clever way to market an event to their donors. Then, they generously offered grants to the best ideas; grants to implement those creative ideas.

I got to be a judge and not only loved it, but vowed to steal some of the best ideas because I truly would love to find some of them in my own mailbox. That’s a surefire way I know if I’d like to send it to a donor.

The task was simple and their ideas were genius. They literally had a table filled with paper, pens, markers, and colored pencils. Add to that a super fun trip to the Target Dollar Bin and the Dollar Store and there was a plethora of super inexpensive products they could choose to use to brainstorm a message to send to a donor.

Check out just a few of them! 

Do you see how playing an exciting role in your donor’s life can get them stoked about what you’re doing? Can you also see how they might like how and what you communicate so much that they would tell their family, friends, or colleagues about you and what you do? Do you see how this kind of marketing stickiness builds a secondary marketing team for you—one you don’t have to payroll?

You see, my friend, if we become keenly aware of the fact that we are all living deep, wide, complicated lives, we may be more inclined to ‘do kindness’ simply because that’s the lens in which we’d like people to view us.

Life is a miraculous mess. But it’s also an epic story. Whether we’re in the background or on center stage, the way we treat people, help people, care for, and love people matters. Tell your donors that!  Help them change their lens of how they see you and the work you do in the world. Ask them to ‘do kindness’ and actively become a part of your mission. Help them to become a part of your story. Then tell them about the impact and write it well. It really is a sonderful life.

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All My Best,

[email protected]
dawn brown creative, llc.

P.S. Fundraising is hard, even though you make it look
oh-so easy! ♥

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