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“My flight attendant knows more about fundraising than most fundraisers…”

Published by Tim Kachuriak

I was boarding a flight home from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands recently. Not sure if you have ever been, but I highly recommend (just not during hurricane season). Anyway, being a small island, they have a small airport: one terminal, no jetways, so you have to walk onto the tarmac and walk up the stairs to board your flight. If you are old enough to remember the TV show Fantasy Island— think that kind of vibe.

Anyway, I had just boarded the flight headed for home and noticed that two of the flight attendants were having what seemed to be a frustrating conversation with each other. I couldn’t exactly hear what they were saying, but I could tell it wasn’t good. Maintenance delay? Missing crew members? Approaching weather? I’ve flown enough to know that there are many things that can almost guarantee I won’t make my connection.

Then, one of the flight attendants chimed in on the PA system, “Good afternoon folks, I’ve been notified by ground control that this plane is over the weight restrictions so we are going to need six passengers to volunteer to deplane and be moved to the next flight out. Every passenger that volunteers will be given a travel voucher good towards future travel. I’m sorry but we can’t push back until that happens.”

Nobody said anything, but we had the same reaction. We all looked around in silence thinking the same thing, “I’m not getting off—you get off.” After about 10 minutes of this, the flight attendant piped in again, “folks, if we don’t have some volunteers, we are going to have to start pulling people off this flight. Please press your call button if you would like to volunteer.”


This is when the anxiety began to build. I think the a/c was still running but everyone began to sweat. Then I remembered that I have status with this airline— would that be enough to save me?

At this point I noticed that another flight attendant came over with a perplexed look on her face and started talking to the other flight attendant. This time I strained my ear to try to make out what she was saying.

“Can you tell them when the next flight is? Will they be given a hotel? How much is the voucher worth? You can’t expect people to volunteer if they don’t know exactly what you are offering.”

“The PA system clicked on again. The next flight is leaving tomorrow afternoon. All volunteers will be automatically booked on that flight. You will also receive a hotel for this evening, a meal voucher and a travel voucher worth $1,900.”

Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing.

The words were barely out of her mouth and I counted at least fifteen people that hit the call button. Then after a few seconds, another wave of bings. Then another.

Which brings me to my point. You can’t expect anyone to accept any offer if they don’t understand that offer. And as a marketer that is your job! Your main focus must be to create clarity in the mind of your prospect. They need to understand exactly what is in it for them if they say yes. If what you are offering is not appealing, then you don’t have a much of an offer at all, you simply have a request. And people ignore requests!

This is why we often stress the importance of value proposition in our communications. If my prospective donor doesn’t understand it, they will ignore it. And just because we know what we are offering, we can not make the mistake of thinking that our prospective donor does too.

You can learn the 4 components of a value proposition and check out the benchmark data of 127 of the largest nonprofits in this free value proposition study:

So, how do you apply this to your fundraising? It’s so easy. You just have to explain it. And to do that, you have to use your words. Look at the following experiments:

In each of these experiments you can see how by adding copy we were able increase the clarity of the offer, which thereby increased the appeal of the offer, and ultimately led to greater conversions (the number of people that said ‘yes!’). And this is something all of us can do! We don’t need a new giving system, or a website redesign, or even the help of some fancy agency (like NextAfter)— we just need to get quiet and get clarity.

So the next time you feel like your fundraising results are stuck, remember the words of the wise flight attendant, “you can’t expect people to [fill in the blank] if they don’t understand what you are offering.”

And buckle up—it’s going to be a wild ride!

Published by Tim Kachuriak

Tim Kachuriak is Chief Innovation and Optimization Officer of NextAfter.