Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Yes is More ! - Firm Ground at the AFP Congress

Mounting Voices at Hand at the AFP Congress certainly raised the attendance bar for the project, it also raised my expectations! 

By Day Two I was already hoarse and thankful traffic at Prime Data’s booth slowed long enough for me to update my blog. But once posted I was ready for more. When the ten deep line-ups from the day before didn’t appear, (I’m told the day 2 lull is a tradeshow norm), I found a new way to engage passersby.

Some of you may remember the popular “XO poll” I conducted during my residency in Picton last summer. Half way through the day, I took a similar approach and for a short time randomly selected people to flash with the words “Hi Beautiful!“ or “Yes!”

The words are excerpts from letters and notes found in “Firm Ground,” my feature category for the day in the window, on tweets and on Facebook. The best description of “Firm Ground” is found in another excerpt–one of my favorites: “ With our firm, constant belief, admiration and love.” It’s a powerful category!

Here is what the study revealed: 

“Hi beautiful!” elicited an occasional smile and I was able to draw people into a conversation about Voices at Hand and it’s relevance to fundraisers. But as many people turned away, or averted my eyes, as I was able to coax into the booth, and I began to feel like I was treading into catcall or wolf whistle territory.

Yes! Brought a grin to the face of virtually everyone funneling to the hospitality tables during session-breaks. Crowds gathered anew and I was able to satisfy my need to share Voices at Hand, even as I tore down the installation later in the day. 

Now, if I was a market researcher I might surmise affirmations are more universally acceptable and powerful than compliments or praise.  It’s not hard to see how ‘yes is more’ in the fundraising world especially when you are privy to pages and pages of real life accounts of how lives have been changed by someone saying “yes.”

One of the stories I shared at Congress is about a young man in Kenya who wrote a  letter of thanks to his sponsor. As a high-school grad Bernard had outgrown Plan International’s structure, but his letter and drive to continue his education inspired his sponsor to keep giving. Four years and many letters later Bernard was an engineer.  

One delegate at Congress was more interested in ‘how to stay at yes’ more than how to get to yes’. She lamented about the challenges of stewardship, particularly how difficult it can be to continually re-engage a donor— apparently “wanting to give something back” wanes.

I didn’t pretend to have the answer, but I think we moved towards one as I pointed out the strengths of some thank you letters in the collection. Those that transport the reader through the reasons for being thankful before they get to the words leave a lasting impression.

Of the many we read together these stand out:

“When I was taught to write my thank you letters at high school they always said to mention one or two things we enjoyed most. But they didn’t tell us how to decide which we enjoyed the most. It will be a really long time before I forget the thrill of standing on the runners and trying to squeeze out “How Niko!” between lips that were frozen in a happy grin, the peaceful silence of the fire on the ice and the excitement of ski-jogging & wondering if I could make the next corner and above all the happiness that made your home such a wonderful place to come back to.” (January 1952)

You have been there at all the important moments, and blessed them with your intuition and deep understanding of the rhythms of life. Thank you for so generously sharing your time, muscle and creativity, all through the year, but especially in the busy weeks before Christmas.

Not only did you know what it was we truly needed, but you also went ahead and shepherded “it” over (not to mention hauled it). When we shook our heads from the chaos of moving, the heart of this place was already beating.
Please accept our deep thanks.”  (January 2011)  

Afterwards we wondered what words a donor needs to hear to encourage them to give again? If we trust my earlier observations the answer is hold back on empty compliments, but of course there is much more to it.

By some brilliant coincidence I’d been thinking about needs a lot lately. A few weeks before Congress, my husband and I were at a dinner party where we played a parlour game that stuck with me. It’s the game where everyone thinks of a name of a famous person, not easily associated with him or her, and adds it to a hat. It works best when people don’t know one another very well. The names are read aloud once and then the who’s who guessing begins.

I was Silken Laumann, my husband was Snoop dogg and the host was Abraham Maslow.

Maslow. I hadn’t thought of Maslow since I was a camp counselor. I kept coming back to him as I sifted through my categories, “Please” “Hope” “Thanks” and “Firm Ground“ in preparation for this residency, and was surprised by the perspective his hierarchy of needs gave me as I identified letters to share.  How do fundraisers and the many businesses associated with fundraising reconcile such disparity in needs?

Between letter readings I took this question to the Exhibitor’s floor. It didn’t have the same impact as the “Hi Beautiful / Yes” study, but not surprisingly Maslow was no stranger to the delegates.  Some disagreed with the orientation of his hierarchy, still the discussion seemed to hit a collective reset button. I now wonder what direction conversations would have gone if I’d thought to interject a quote?

If you plan on being any less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.” A. Maslow.

Sounds like “Firm Ground” to me!

The firm ground for Voices at Hand is comprised of an ever-growing list of individuals and organizations. 

 The AFP chapter of the project was supported by the Ontario Arts Council; Big Sky Design; Cameron Taylor; Barb and David Russell; Jane Taylor; Lily and Sally Falk.

It was made possible through Steve Falk of Prime Data's generosity, vision and commitment to finding inspiration in unexpected places.

Thank you all for saying yes!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Wendy!

    Interesting observations about affirmation and praise. I guess it was a very different crowd than Voices usually attracts?

    Cam as Snoop Dogg would also have been interesting! ;-)