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As human beings, we do something called “thin slicing”. We take a mental snapshot of a person or organization, and we guess at their competence, confidence, likeability, etc. within a split second. Scientists say this could be a survival mechanism that we use to quickly determine if someone is a friend or foe.

What that tells us as nonprofits is we have a very narrow window to make a first impression with donors. How narrow? It’s been said that humans today have a shorter attention span than a goldfish (nine seconds). Others have noted that 1/10 of a second is all the time it takes a person to formulate a first impression.

How to Tell a Story that Makes a Memorable Impression

While donors may be making snap judgments on your nonprofit based on only a “thin slice”, the good news is that humans respond very well to stories. And nonprofits have an advantage when it comes to storytelling. Storytelling is critical to our industry. It’s how we make connections and form emotional bonds.

So how can your organization use storytelling to connect with prospective donors during acquisition in a way that opens the door to a relationship? Here are four proven tactics:

  1. Have a point of view

One of the things we believe deeply at Pursuant is that it really pays to have a point of view—particularly when you know potential donors are only going to be focusing on that thin slice of information or experience to make their initial judgement. By having a strong point of view, you can work to direct a donor’s attention to the piece of your narrative you know they are going to slice off in those seconds or milliseconds when the impression is made.

  1. Connect through empathy

Once you have a point of view, how can you use it to connect with people? That’s where empathy comes in. You need to put your donors’ desires first. It’s not about your needs. It’s about their needs. Finding ways to structure and tell your story so that everything you do is a story about them is key. You can do this in variety of ways—through drama, personification, shared experience, nostalgia, etc. Those are all powerful ways to harken back to things that are important to donors.

  1. Keep it simple

Remember people are making a judgment based on “thin slices”, so don’t bog your prospective donors down with too much information. Make it easy for people to instantly decide, “Oh, they’re talking to me”. If prospective donors have to weed through a lot of dense points about your organization that seem nonessential, your message will be diluted and your donor will be lost. You also don’t want to overload your prospects with too many options. You want a single, clear action.

  1. Build emotional momentum

At Pursuant, we believe the goal of acquisition is to create “emotional momentum”.

You want to surprise people by respectfully disrupting them and widening their perspectives. Then, once you’ve grabbed the attention of the right people, you want to provoke an emotional response. You want to make sure you are touching people’s hearts. You want to connect with them on a deeper level. To do that, you have to create trust. You have to reinforce that you are worthy of their investment.

Looking to energize your acquisition efforts? Download First Impressions of Acquisition now to learn how to build better and stronger connections with new donors.