what lady gaga can teach you about fundraising

“Theatrical” was the first word that came to mind when I was thinking how to describe Lady Gaga’s “look.” “Crazy,” “weird,” “unsettling,” and “strange” also popped into my head (among others). As I wrote in the previous post on “What Lady Gaga Can Teach You,” I’m not a Lady Gaga fan (be sure to see my disclaimers) but I have to respect her for her creative genius in marketing and strategy.

Today, as promised, we’re talking fashion. More specifically, we’re talking about Lady Gaga’s look and how that relates to fundraising.

The primary element of Gaga’s look is that she is startling. Either because of the skin she’s showing or the weird hat-things she’s wearing or the strange chandelier costume she’s parading around in, she grabs your attention.

And you don’t forget that look.

Which is the most important lesson from Lady Gaga’s fashion: great fundraising must startle.

“Pretty” is not important if you are fundraising. What is most important is…raising funds. That’s the only true purpose and the only real measure of a fundraising piece: “Did it raise the funds you needed?”

Lady Gaga stands out in a crowd. You have to as well.

If you are sending boring, look-like-everyone-else direct mail you are violating the Lady Gaga Rule and not raising the funds you could.

I know, I know. You hate the look of direct mail. It doesn’t even look like a real letter. And what is it with copy on the front of the envelope? Real people don’t write letters like that. I know.

Let’s go back to Lady Gaga’s look. I’m going to make a guess. Lady Gaga doesn’t wear those clothes all the time. I suspect there are times she throws on a pair of jeans and a hoodie and knocks around in her running shoes. Or maybe she wears a business suit to a meeting with her attorney. When she stops off at her mom’s house, I betcha she’s not wearing that red shower curtain with the spiky shoulders.

Is her look designed for comfort? Or wearability? Or practicality? Or anything other than grabbing attention? Nope.

And your fundraising has to have that same attitude. If it’s not laser focused on grabbing your donor and prospective donor’s attention, you’re not doing fundraising.

Plus, if you don’t startle and grab attention you will fail at fundraising. Sorry. The landscape is too crowded with great organizations doing great work all competing for a limited (maybe shrinking) pool of donors for boring to work.

I know you may not like teaser copy on letters.

I know you may not like drama.

I know you may not like drawing attention to yourself.

I know you may not like to tell emotional, compelling stories about the need you are meeting.

I know.

But that’s what it takes to get a donor’s attention. That’s what it takes to make your appeal to a donor so compelling and moving that they have to send money, regardless of their busyness or the distractions or the competition.

The second lesson from Lady Gaga’s look is to know who you are trying to reach. I’m out of Gaga’s target demographic. I saw that she gave a news network interview last night (it’s like she’s following me around). She didn’t look like she looks on stage, but she was still startling. The look was tailored for the audience (and maybe she can’t sit in some of those costumes).

Grabbing attention is not a one-size fits all creative strategy. Major donors are very different than general donors. Foundations are very different than individual donors. Online donors are different than… well you get the idea.

What works in one channel doesn’t work in another and what works with one audience won’t work for another. But, for every audience and for every channel, you have to recognize that you must grab their attention.

So how do you apply this craziness?

Examine your fundraising. Get your direct mail out of the file. Listen to your radio spot. Watch your TV commercial. Read your newsletter. Scan your website.

Does it grab you? Does anything make you curious? Does it inspire? Does it paint a big, bold, daring (maybe scary) dream that creates wonder?

Or do you have bland copy? Do you have to tell the reader that this is “important” rather than letting them draw that conclusion?

Do you believe in what you do? Does your organization change the world or change lives or somehow make a big difference? If so, learn from Lady Gaga. Startle. Grab attention. Don’t be timid or afraid. You’re changing the world and your donors want to know about it.

So what about you? Are you ready to suit up in one of those crazy outfits? Does your organization struggle to figure out how to grab your donors’ attention?

I’d love to hear what you’re thinking.

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: Michael_Spencer)
(photo credit: Michael_Spencer)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

5 thoughts on “what lady gaga can teach you about fundraising”

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention oneicity // income solutions for non-profits » what lady gaga can teach you about fundraising -- Topsy.com

  2. All I can say when I think of the many, many appeal letters cruising through my mail box and emails on a given year is the phrase: “no guts, no glory.” Please oh please! Someone out there with an important cause and a self-important mail agency, surprise me, shock me, dazzle me, or at the very least act like you actually care. Why the h – e- double -toothpicks would I be interested in your cause if you seem disinterested. It’s time for non-profits to stop “phoning it in”! Have the guts to go for the heart. (It’s right under the suit pocket where I keep my check book.)

    Thank you Steve for getting the need for great (AND MEANINGFUL) creative on the table.

  3. I completely agree with you that it’s so important for a nonprofit to let their passion for their work shine through! If the staff aren’t excited about the work they are doing, why would a donor get excited?

    Keep up the good work!

    Sandy Rees

  4. Pingback: oneicity // income solutions for non-profits » lady gaga, prince and nonprofits

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