3 Wrongs in Fundraising Writing
American journalist and biographer Gene Fowler once wrote, "Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead." Copywriting for fundraising can cause pain, too. After all, we have to convince potential donors of the benefits of parting with their hard-earned and limited money to support our causes.
All too commonly, three "wrongs" permeate copywriting for direct-mail appeals and e-appeals. These can reduce response rates, income and — most importantly — the programs carried out by the nonprofit.
Writing to the wrong person
Regardless of whether your letter says "Dear Friend" or "Dear Dave and Donna," you can easily find yourself writing to the wrong person.
Instead of writing to your donor, you may find yourself writing to placate a board member, major donor with strong opinions about your communications, a staff member or a grant funder. Every one of these people knows — or should know — far more about your organization than your typical direct-response donor, so he or she may appreciate more technical details, not want to hear a story or insist on a short letter with a "to the point" ask.
But your typical donor may not have even thought about you since she received your last e-mail or letter. She doesn't know (and might not care about) the intricate details of your solution. What she wants to know is that you need her money, you will use it to make a significant difference and you appreciate her sacrifice.
It can be hard to balance the demands of staff who accuse you of "dumbing down" the program or to avoid pressure from major donors who forget that everyone isn't just like them in terms of their interest in reading your mail. But as soon as you start writing to them instead of to your donor, you're potentially sabotaging your response rate and income.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.