7 Ways to Use Verbal Images to Pull Donors Into Your Appeal
You’ve come up with a great offer for your fundraising appeal — the need, the ask, the call to action and so on. Now what? How do you get your donors to really lean in?
You take the offer and hold it up in front of your donors like a gemstone and slowly turn it, right before their eyes, so they can see it in all its facets and get interested in it and moved by it … moved enough to give.
You do it with verbal images in your copy. The reason is simple. If you’re just telling your donors about your offer and your cause, you’re losing them. You can’t just tell. You have to show.
“No ideas but in things,” as poet William Carlos Williams famously said. And he’s right, of course. To engage your readers, you want to pull your ideas down from the ether and express them through the things of the world. Copy that’s abstract philosophizing about the cause won’t grab donors. Verbal images will.
A verbal image is different from a story. Fundraising stories are narratives — this happens, then that happens and so on. A verbal image, even though it may have some narrative elements, is essentially a snapshot — a succinct, sharply focused picture that readers immediately get. And that’s where it draws its power. Precisely because of its brevity and clarity, a verbal image can often persuade donors more readily than a longer story. But there’s no need to choose an image over a story for your appeal. Both can work together.
A verbal image is concrete. You can write in your appeal, for example, that your charity has 1,000 pounds of medical supplies to distribute. But that’s abstract. It’s unlikely to have much of an impact, because your donor can’t envision 1,000 pounds. Instead, you can write that your charity has boxes and boxes of antibiotics, bandages, vaccines, stethoscopes and crutches, stacked from the floor to the ceiling, filling up the entire warehouse, just waiting to be shipped. That’s concrete. It’s something your donors can see in their mind’s eye.
A verbal image is specific. You want to include the details that paint the picture. If your image is of a little girl in poverty, is she wearing a dress, or is it a mint-green smock that’s an orphanage hand-me-down, frayed at the seams, too big for her and smudged with dirt? You have to judge how far to go here. You don’t want to pile on endless details for no reason. But specific, relevant details sharpen your images.
You can use verbal images to make just about every part of your offer and your appeal more compelling for donors, keeping in mind that the images should be based in fact and not just made-up. A verbal image is an effective way to …
1. Present the need
A verbal image can show donors why their support is vital, giving them a clear, specific problem to solve. Instead of simply saying, “Children are dying in poor countries,” you can use a verbal image: “A little boy sick with tuberculosis, lying in a remote clinic in Tajikistan, explodes into a deep, heaving cough, bringing up blood, shuddering in pain. He needs someone like you.” With the verbal image, the need is more immediate and more urgent.
2. Convey the leverage in your offer
Let’s say your offer involves multiplying your donor’s gift 30 times. You can just write, “Your gift multiplies 30 times in impact.” But you can also go a step further and add an image: “It’s like you just reached into your pocket for a dollar bill and pulled out $30 instead — because now every $1 you give will multiply 30 times in impact …” The image makes the offer more interesting, relevant and memorable.
3. Show donor involvement
Naturally you want your donors to feel that they’re part of your nonprofit’s work, not just bystanders with checkbooks. A verbal image can do that, showing donors how they’re involved in a like-you’re-right-there-with-us kind of way: “Picture this. You take your seat on the cargo plane, cinching the seat belt tight. On your left are the boxes of medical supplies you’re delivering. After hours of flight, the plane touches down with a screech on a blacktop airstrip in the Congo rain forest. As dusk falls, you load the supplies into the waiting jeep and bump down a rutted dirt road, headlights searching the way.”
4. Put the donor’s gift into action
Donors often don’t have a clear idea about how their gifts will be used. In fact, many donors won’t even recall ever giving to your charity. So it’s useful to show donors what their gifts will do in a way they can visualize: “A young man sits at a small wooden table in his hut in Cambodia. Across from him, a health worker places the medicine on the table — medicine you provided. Stunned, the young man sees that he’s just received the cure for his disease. ‘It’s a miracle,’ he cries out, overcome. ‘I will be healed!’ And then with tears of joy, ‘I will be able to go back to my village!’”
5. Highlight your donor’s impact
One of the main reasons donors give is to know the appreciation and gratitude that come from helping. You can, of course, simply say that the people your nonprofit serves are grateful. But a verbal image drives the point home in a more compelling way: “When the doctor and nurses in the one-room clinic in Ghana see the boxes of medicine you provide, they’ll clasp their hands together in prayer, beaming smiles, and lift their eyes to heaven, thanking God again and again for this blessing.”
6. Convey your nonprofit’s work
Mission statements are usually uninspiring. You wouldn’t want to include one in your appeal. But a verbal image can express a nonprofit’s work in a way that engages donors: “John used to be a drug addict. Used to be. Today, saying grace at the dinner table with his two small kids, he sneaks a glance at them. Their heads bowed, hands folded, they’re … smiling! Finally he’s the father and provider he hoped he could be.” Immediately your readers know what this nonprofit does, and they get it in a way that’s more human and memorable than saying, “We help people overcome addiction.”
7. Show donors how and why to give
A verbal image can present the actions and benefits wrapped up in the experience of giving: “See yourself sitting at your kitchen table, writing out a check or going online to give. Your check sliding into the reply envelope. Your finger clicking the ‘submit’ button on your computer. A smile forms on your lips. You take a sip of coffee. You glance out the window. It’s a good day.” The image shows donors what “please give” means to them and conveys the personal satisfaction of giving to create a stronger call to action.
Just as you use photos and other visual images, you can make your appeals more compelling and more effective with verbal images. To pull donors in, don’t just say it. Say it in verbal images.