In the past few weeks, I've called scores of EveryChild donors and prospects to ask what drew them to child sponsorship. Oh, how they loved to reveal their motivations, their lives, the charities they have cherished and dumped - and what makes them trust EveryChild so much.
Each time I run this exercise, it's like striking oil. Out flows the most delicious torrent of material, providing rich insights into who we are talking to and what matters to them in the context of making and continuing to make donations.
I'm staggered at how many charities have no idea what motivates their donors to go on giving their precious support. Instead, they often rely on the psychic powers of their marketing staff and agencies - or fall back on 'thumbnail' portraits of croaking old Doris and Derek Donor.
But keeping in closer contact with your donors' motivations is as easy as one low-cost phone call, which you can make yourself.
You'll be amazed at the level of trust your charity's name inspires in your donors, which is why they can be so willing to talk openly. In fact, there's every chance you'll harvest unexpected ideas, too - once a supporter gets on a roll, they can often be hard to stop.
This kind of fresh and raw insight is like a rudder ensuring outbound communications head somewhere useful. But if you set off without it, perhaps through lack of time or budget, then you can easily sail into choppy waters.
The result can be wasted hours debating who you are really talking to, a flaccid brief that boils down to "er, raise more money", creative work that is acceptable to everyone merely because it is insipid and a performance like a wet Wednesday.
What you get is low response, low income, donor indifference and a wasted opportunity to build a stronger relationship with the very people who fuel your organisation.
In contrast, real-time donor insight pays dividends because it generates a clear brief, leading to crisp work that is aligned with values that your donors have already told you will help them to feel more generous.
If you don't have any budget for calling, then do it yourself. All you need are names, numbers and a relaxed phone manner. Better still, record the calls (asking the donor's permission first) so your team can listen in afterwards at their desks, or on their iPods as they travel home.
Talking directly to donors puts an end to reliance on jaded thumbnail portraits, group thinking and psychic powers. And, to be honest, it puts a lot of fun into fundraising and communications.