What can fundraisers learn from Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Café?

by Joanne Wallace

Here in Canada we have great public radio. Constantly imperilled by lack of government funding - but that's another story.

Anyways, the CBC (that's Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for those of you elsewhere) produces dozens of fabulous radio shows, but a cross-country favourite is surely The Vinyl Café. It's an hour of music, stories, essays and more, hosted by our national storyteller - a self-deprecating, Jimmy Stewart-sort-of fellow by the name of Stuart McLean.

So popular is this show that it regularly goes "on the road," where it's recorded live in concert halls and auditoriums across the country, and later aired for the rest of us to enjoy.

Stuart Mclean performs The Vinyl Cafe live for Canada's CBC Radio

McLean's schtick, when his show is on the road, is to open with welcoming remarks tailored specifically to whatever town he's in. But here's the secret: he doesn't say anything about himself, his show, his books, his band, the CBC or anything else. He focuses entirely on the audience, and the town they call home.

Map locating Gander, Newfoundland, Canada

Take last week. McLean and his crew rolled into Gander, Newfoundland - which, in case you're not from around here, is a pretty small place. It's perched in an otherwise remote area of Newfoundland - an island-province separated from the rest of Canada by the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

However, McLean didn't talk about any of this. Instead he talked about Gander's history, which is mostly about aviation. He made much of Gander's one-time status as the hub of international air travel - sitting, as it does, halfway along the flight path between New York and London. The Silent Witness memorial at Gander, Newfoundland.He talked about its proud history of ferrying planes and escorting ships across the Atlantic during WWII. He re-told the famous story of how Gander opened its hearts and homes to hundreds of strangers when over 40 aircraft were re-routed there on September 11, 2001.

At the end of this speech, McLean had the audience eating out of his hand. If he had asked for a donation, they would have given him everything they had.

Why? Because he demonstrated that he understood them. He celebrated what was special about them. He treated them with dignity and respect, and concluded his speech with heartfelt thanks for the welcome he and his crew had received from the town.

When we write to our donors, we often make the mistake of writing to them all about ourselves: we tell them about our mission, our problems, our goals. This is why our fundraising communications so often fail to move our donors to action. We've forgotten to include them in the conversation.

Next time you sit down to write a thank-you note, or an appeal letter, think about your donors first. Do your research. Find out who they are, what they like, what matters to them - what's special about them. Then, like Stuart McLean, write that piece so the donor's giving heart is the centre of the message.

You can download Stuart's address to Gander here: http://bit.ly/qXExE7 (scroll down to the April 9, 2011 podcast, titled "Dave and the Bike.")




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