Does your fundraising writing result in less than satisfying results? I’ll be honest: creating good donor communications is a constant learning experience. But you can do some things to help today. Here are some tips for you.
Unmarry your “brand”.
That is, unchain yourself from the collection of fonts, colors, and language being pushed at you as “brand”. Run from the brand police.
While consistency has its place (especially your organization’s name or logo) any pre-packaged boundaries will hurt your fundraising.
That’s because you’re not writing from an organization (and definitely not a “brand”). You should be writing from one person to another. And it needs to feel like that.
Don’t skip the essentials
What are you asking donors to do? Can you put that simply in only a few words?
If you can make your ask, your offer, clear more people will give. And Steven Screen has a great way to describe it. You won’t forget “verb a noun” once you watch this short lesson. It will help you think clearly about this essential part of fundraising.
When you find your offer, use it often. No need to complicate something beautifully simple. And repetition means it will stick in more donors’ brains.
A picture = a thousand words and all that
Nothing you write will tell a story as well as a great photograph. (And a great description for low or no-vision donors.)
Photos of your mission, as it happens, are great. Group photos of staff or board are not. For your donors, they feel like pictures from a party they weren’t invited to attend.
Donors need to feel a connection to the people (or animals) they’re helping. And our eyes are the first sense to interpret what we should feel. The shorter and straighter that connection is, the more likely it is that donors will give and keep giving.
So what works? Close-up photos. Eyes on the camera. Emotion. Showing the need for help (appeals) or the results of that help (newsletters, thank you letters).
Go easy on building photos, too. Buildings will never move us as people can.
If there’s pressure to please insiders, have the photographer get a few of those and share them with staff and board. Just remember that those photos aren’t what donors find interesting.
Focus on what matters most
Tom Ahern taught me this years ago. And it may make your work a bit easier.
When you understand what people are most likely to read you can put most of your effort there.
So think about:
- Subheads and decks
- Anything that will be bold, italicized, or underlined
- Subject lines
- Copy on your outer envelope
- Copy on your reply forms and donation page
You want someone to be able to skim what you’re writing and still get the picture. Then feel moved to act, right now.
Don’t panic over typos
This lesson is from Jeff Brooks and it saved me a lot of self-flagellation.
Jeff tells the story of two different typos. In one case, the word “placemat” was changed to “placenta”. Yes, as in “return the enclosed placenta…”
In another “pantry” was “panty”. Cringeworthy? Maybe. But the results in both cases weren’t much different than expected.
Plus, as Jeff points out, including an embarrassing typo gives you a great opportunity to apologize… and ask again.
But what if you hear from donors who are eager to point out the mistake? Simple: thank them for their eagle eyes. Make them feel like the best students in class!
Fundraising writing? Write as you talk
Don’t let anyone bully you into formal language. It will sound stuffy to the people reading it. And YOU are not stuffy, are you?
Instead, think about what you’d say to someone if you were talking to them. Write that. Don’t get in your own way, either. No editing while you write. Just dump it on the page, knowing you can fix it later.
Writing as simply as possible (between 4th and 6th-grade reading levels) makes what you write easy to read. And if it’s not easily read, it won’t be read.
And while you’re at it: “Professional” language isn’t how people actually communicate. For instance, have you ever been told: “We don’t use contractions. It’s not professional!” Your answer is simple: “There you go, you just used contractions!” The same goes for inside or clinical terms.
Use language your audience knows.
Professional creates distance. It might feel safer, but it’s no way to talk to your donors and other kind people who might become your donors.
Focus on the journey, not the gift
If you’re only driven toward getting that gift, you’re threatening the next gift. Think about relationships instead.
That means a genuine, heartfelt thank you letter. One that really sounds like it came from a human. And any human touches you can add will help. (A handwritten P.S., even if it’s created by a handwriting font, still “reads” as personal.)
Then you owe donors the experience of seeing what they accomplished with a gift. That’s where newsletters and impact reports come in. This is their emotional payoff for making a gift – the donor gets to see what they helped make possible. Without closing this loop, you cut off the relationship too early.
Most of all, lead with your heart
My friend Lisa Sargent taught me this. The best fundraising writing is full of feelings. Don’t be afraid to be emotional. Don’t be embarrassed. (Isn’t it awful how we’re taught feelings don’t belong in professional situations? What nonsense!)
Think and write with your heart. No inhibitions. No backing away from those feelings because you feel vulnerable.
Your vulnerability is the connection between donors and the people your organization is there to help. If you can put your self-consciousness aside as your write, you’ll pave the way for stronger connections.
And you’ll raise more money.