9 Things I Wish I Had Figured Out Sooner
3. Insider insights can mess you up
My first job in the nonprofit sector was as the in-house copywriter for an organization that fought poverty, hunger and disease in the developing world. I worked hard to make those things vivid for donors.
Then the organization sent me to India to see the work firsthand. I was bowled over. I understood the cause like never before. I learned that feeding the hungry is a complicated process if you want to do it right.
It became important to me to share that insight with our donors. I wanted to bring them along on my voyage of discovery. I figured if they could get it the way I now did, they'd be better donors.
So my copy got a lot more involved and complicated. I tried to make the complexity clear and spelled-out. My colleagues at the nonprofit said it was the best copy ever: so complete, not simplistic like it used to be.
But as we rolled out my improved copy, fundraising results tumbled. We couldn't see the correlation. After all, how could better copy get worse results?
In fact, I never really understood that my copy was causing the problem until I moved to the agency side, where I was held responsible for getting results, not perfecting donors. Then it dawned on me: Trying to replicate insider insights is not the fundraiser's job. It is directly at odds with motivating people to give. The more you try to educate donors, the less money you'll raise.
4. My preferences are a poor guide
I love complex metaphors that conceal multiple layers of meaning. They're so rich, challenging and beautiful — like some kind of 3-D impressionist Encyclopedia Britannica on a tropical island.
Turns out I'm nearly alone in that preference. Most folks hate complex metaphors. They don't like the sense that something's being hidden from them. They have no intention whatsoever of solving a puzzle as they read. They want clarity, simplicity and easy reading.