What? Five fiction writers will help you write better ads?
It's true. He suggests these writers because they have good writing style. Graceful, strong, euphonious, clear style.
You probably don't want to write a fundraising letter than sounds like Jane Austen. But if you read Austen and her style sinks into your bones -- you'll write better fundraising.
Let me suggest another author to read:
Richard Brautigan. His best-known (and best) book is Trout Fishing in America, and you should read it. It's a strange book, in some ways an artifact of its time (published 1967). But the writing is amazing: It seems utterly simple, almost dashed off. But if you pay close attention, you can see how tightly crafted it is. No needless words. Almost musical rhythm. It's so natural, you almost forget the surreality of the story.
If you write like Richard Brautigan, you're a good fundraising writer.
Are there people on your team who makes changes to your fundraising with the goal of making the message more persuasive to themselves?
I bet there are. Most teams have them.
Whether they're inexperienced new staff or the chairman of the board, they're costing you a lot.
"I like it" fundraising is not really fundraising at all. Whether someone on the team likes it or not should have no bearing. In fact, when insiders like it, it's almost certainly not on target for your donors.
That's why "I like it" fundraising is nothing but a form of entertainment. A very expensive form of entertainment for nonprofit insiders.
Honestly, it would be better to take say half of the money you're wasting on ineffective "I like it" fundraising use it to send that person on a vacation where they can get the entertainment they seek without hurting your fundraising. That would do less damage to your revenue.
Better yet, expect them to pay for their entertainment with their own money. And keep the fundraising effective -- even though it'll be less entertaining.
The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
Like a lot of writers, I'm a sucker for a book that seems as if it'll help me write better.
Thing is, a lot of books that promise this don't really help. In fact some of them seem designed to make me a much worse writer -- stilted, robotic, monotonous, and confused.
While some stylebooks are helpful, even mission-critical for writers, many are a crazed hodge-podge of duh advice ("omit needless words"), grammar myths ("don't split infinitives), and flat-out terrible advice ("never use passive voice"). If you follow that kind of advice, God help you.
(I've ranted elsewhere about the much-loved but mostly destructive Strunk and White stylebook.)
Pinker's book can save you from the stylebook poison. The Sense of Style is kind of an anti-style-book style book. It's about common sense and paying attention to your writing, not following misleading myths and pet peeves of the self-proclaimed grammar mavens:
...incurious about the logic and history of the English language and the ways in which it has been used.... They have a tin ear for its nuances of meaning and emphasis. Too lazy to crack open a dictionary, they are led by gut feeling and intuition rather than attention to careful scholarship. For these writers, language is not a vehicle for clarity and grace but a way to signal their membership in a social clique.
If all this book did was poke grammar Nazis in the eye, I'd recommend it. But it does more than that: It proposed a better way to think about writing. It can help you with anything from word choice to sentence structure to overall coherence.
It can make you a better fundraiser.
Highly, highly recommended. Available at Amazon, Powell's, and probably everywhere else.
This video about the Syria crisis and linking to a UNHCR giving page is depressing.
It makes several of the mistakes typical of Stupid Nonprofit Ads, but does it with a kind of plodding, self-important, scolding spirit.
As is often true with work like this, it's done by an ad agency. And I've found no evidence that UNHCR has anything to do with the work. It appears to be portfolio-padding. As if someone at the agency said, "Let's do a project that's fun, easy, and morally right!"
The first failure is abstraction. The first 34 seconds (of 75 seconds total) is scenes of New York with no people visible. It's a long half-minute: Not really interesting, but worse, so abstract that it tells you nothing about anything (least of all the suffering of Syrian children).
We then see about 15 seconds of quick shots of what seem to be Syrian people. It ends with 15 seconds of black screen. Because apparently the no-people New York wasn't abstract enough.
The message is entirely in titles over the video. Here's the whole thing:
If the 1.5 million people living in Manhattan fled their homes...
... the world would notice.
1.5 million Syrian children have been forced to flee their country.
We need to notice them.
We need to support them.
We need to welcome them.
We need to care for them.
Start by sharing their story.
Practice what you preach! The ad scolds us for not "noticing" the Syrians. Yet it can't bring itself to actually tell a concrete story about the situation. Just a specious comparison between the real crisis and an imaginary one.
If you've worked in international relief fundraising, you know that a manmade humanitarian disaster in the Middle East is just about the most difficult of fundraising challenges. It's hard to get donors to respond.
But scolding them isn't going to work. Nor will abstract images. These things combine to enter the realm of fundcrushing: anti-fundraising that discourages people from donating because the problem seems to big, abstract, and disconnected from daily life.
The way to get people to care and give is to show them real human stories and give them the power to make a difference in specific ways.
Everyone knows that if you want people to support your cause you must tell stories. But if you really want to succeed, you have to tell the right story -- the story that pulls donors in and makes them hunger to donate to you.
It's no secret that giving confers all kinds of benefits to donors. People who give are generally happier, healthier, and even wealthier than non-givers.
If that's true, then how would donors react if we pointed out those benefits in an appeal? Will speaking directly to donors' self-interest about the benefits of giving persuade them to give -- or maybe to give more?
As a first step, researchers explored whether a virtuous cycle exists between happiness and giving -- that is, does giving cause the happiness that encourages donors to give?
The subjects were asked to recall a time when they spent money on themselves or others, and report their happiness. Then each subject was offered the choice in future spending that would make them the happiest. Turns out, the people who felt happy by recalling a previous expenditure for someone else were more likely to donate in the future. So, the virtuous cycle does seem to exist.
Next, researchers explored whether laying out the benefits of giving would motivate people to give. Researchers surveyed 1,000 readers of the New York Times who had read an article about the link between giving and happiness. Compared to other studies, the people in this group reported devoting as much as 40% of their spending on others -- a higher than average rate -- suggesting that these people gave more because they were aware of the benefits of giving.
Other research suggests that adding in motivators like happiness from giving will divert donors' attention from the need and lessen their impulse to give.
Still, promoting the benefits of giving is worth testing to see how your donors will react. If you're bold, come right out and link greater happiness with a gift to your nonprofit. If you're cautious, use subtle suggestions. And see whether or how much this added dimension moves your donors.
Most of your successes and failures start with your attitude. Here are some attitudes -- mental habits -- that can shoot down your fundraising efforts, from the Constant Contact blog at 7 Bad Marketing Habits You Should Quit in 2015:
Seeing marketing (fundraising) as a necessary evil
Starting without a plan in place
Trying to do everything
Treating your contacts like names on a list
Assuming you're on the big screen (ignoring mobile)
Showering donors with tales of your organization's excellence is not a good way to raise funds. The right way to do it is to make what you have to say into a tale of the donor's excellence and values.
Let me show you the difference. Here's a common approach to a fundraising appeal:
Our community center is the best in the county. Spotlessly clean and staffed by top-notch youth-sports professionals, we are a light shining in the inner city, transforming the lives of hundreds of kids every year.
We hope you'll join this great work.
It feels good to say things like that, but it has nothing to do with the donors you're hoping to bring on board as partners. They may congratulate you for your excellence, but few of them are going to see past the good news and note that you need them to make it happen.
That's why your message should be more like this:
Our community center is a special place, a light in one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city. But there's a problem: So many kids are coming to us every day, looking for a safe place to hang out, the center is badly overcrowded. We have to turn away kids every day. That means sending them back out to the mean streets.
You can help the kids. Will you send a gift today to help expand the Center -- before it's too late for even one more kid?
What this blog is about
The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It's not about any technology, medium, or technique. It's about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It's already here. More.
About the blogger
Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for nearly 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you'll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.
I'm a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic, the company that can help you transform the way you do fundraising through focused, experience-based online courses and one-on-one coaching. Find out what we can do for you and with you!
Writing for fundraisers
Admit it: Fundraising writing is weird.
So many people get thrown into the work of writing fundraising without ever being told about the weird they need to live with -- and master -- if they're going to succeed.
How to use rhyme to make your message more memorable and persuasive.
How to tell stories that motivate donors to give.
How to meet donors' emotional needs.
Whether you should use guilt as a motivator.
Whether you're working on your very first fundraising writing assignment or you're a seasoned veteran ... whether you want it for yourself or need to show someone else how the pros write fundraising -- or both -- this is a book you should order today.
Raise funds with your eyes open. Skip the guesswork. Show your boss what really works. This book takes you on a fact-filled and memorable journey through writing, design, strategy, and the mental game of effective fundraising.
Discover how to make branding improve your fundraising in The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving. It's easier -- and less expensive -- than you may think!
If your organization is even vaguely considering "branding work," you need to read The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand by Jeff Brooks. Read more here.