What Fundraisers Can Learn from Walt Disney About Creating Authentic Experiences

One of the original attractions when Disneyland opened was a stagecoach ride. Visitors could hop on a real carriage behind a team of horses and ride through a Frontierland desert. As the ride was developed, designer John Hench asked Walt if he could use a modern, rubber shock absorbing strap, as opposed to the leather straps used a century earlier.

The rubber strap would give a smoother ride, be less expensive to install and maintain, and besides, no one would ever see it. Walt insisted Hench use the leather original. Walt said people would, “feel good about it and understand it’s all done for them,” even if they never saw the strap.

Although people often cite Disney’s attention to detail as the reason behind Disney’s success, instead Walt said, “everything matters.” For nonprofits, everything matters as well. Donors will sense things we never intend them to see or notice. As we fundraise, we must do so realizing that sometimes donors want authenticity more than they want a smoother ride.

What Fundraisers Can Learn from Walt Disney About Creating Authentic Experiences

1. Disney knew his guests craved a magical experience. Part of that was being taken back in time and riding a real stagecoach. A modern replica would not be as magical. Donors want us to tell them the truth and be candid with them the same way. While it is tempting to smooth over the tough questions, donors want us to tell them the truth at all times, even when it means a bumpier ride.

2. Always look at things from the donor’s point of view. The designer approached the stagecoach with an eye on budgets and easy maintenance. Walt saw it from a child’s point of view, and the thrill of having an authentic “old west,” experience. When we plan any event or meeting, we should always approach it from the donor’s point of view, and not necessarily from what is easy, good or expedient for us.

3. Donors notice things they probably shouldn’t. We should not talk about donors or do anything behind the scenes we would not do in front of a donor. Disneyland guests would never see the strap, but Disney knew they would somehow appreciate the difference. While donors may not see us in the office behind closed doors; just like the leather shock absorber, they will somehow know what we said and did. Everything matters.

Disney’s excellence was not in the details. Disney’s success was built by an undying desire to see the world from the guest’s point of view. Our nonprofit can be just like Disney. We just have to realize that donors will notice and care about things they may never see or know. We have to perform as if everything matters, because it does.

Join Wayne and our own Rachel Muir at a free webinar called ‘Donor Relations the Disney Way’ on May 3 at 12pm CDT. Register here.

Wayne Olson is the President of Wayne Olson Consulting LLC and is a frequent speaker and motivational leader on fundraising, donor relations and planned giving. The author of two books on fundraising, with a third publishing this year, Wayne can be reached at Wayneolson.com.

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