Back to the future

This November, I attended the AFP Congress after a few years’ hiatus, and attended a host of workshops on writing and “making the case,” as well as social media and other aspects of fundraising. What was confirmed for me, over and over, was that the tested principles of fundraising copy still hold true. In fact, with today’s aging boomer generation and the prevalence of social media, they are more relevant than ever.

The need to focus on donors, to express gratitude for their contribution to the success of an organization, to reflect their values and goals, is crucial. We need to thank them, flatter them even, to reinforce how important they are to an organization’s success. People have become accustomed to that level of attention, and it’s necessary to speak to them directly in that way if we’re to have any hope of maintaining their interest.

Yes, we need to use the word “You” as much as possible, but in a way that truly focusses on the donor. You remember the old joke, “Ok, enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?” There’s still too much fundraising copy that centres on “look at what a great job we’re doing with your money,” instead of “look at the difference you made with your money!” That might appear to be a subtle shift in approach, but it’s a crucial one. Fundraising copy must acknowledge and reflect the reader’s values, needs, hopes and dreams.

Otherwise, we lose them. On average, we have a few seconds to grab and hold a reader’s attention. They are busy, overwhelmed, and tired. They want communication that is easily accessible, without a lot of jargon or dense language.

So we replace verbs like “access” with the much simpler, “get.” We speak colloquially and write in short paragraphs. We return to the tried and true tradition of underlining and bolding selected text, or clickable links, to create visual relief from a bland block of grey text.

We tell them stories that engage their emotions, help them let down their guards, and connect with our message (I’ll write more about storytelling in future blogs, in the meantime, you can follow my twitter feed @CrispComm for great examples). We create a sense of urgency, and offer a solution that only they can provide.

Tom Ahern, one of my heroes and a leading expert in direct mail fundraising in North America, puts all of these points together here: Even if you only read the first sentence of his nine points, you’ll get the gist.

Thanks to the confirmation and renewed inspiration I received at Congress 2012 from folks like Tom Ahern, every day I redouble my efforts to go back to the future. I create copy that remains true to the principles of effective fundraising by focussing on the perspective of today’s donor. With the right background from my clients, I can speak effectively to their needs and values, and most importantly, their contribution to the cause.

In case you haven’t gathered, I’m rather passionate about helping my non-profit clients raise the most money possible to fund great work that creates a better world. That way, everybody wins.

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