Hot Copy to Melt Hearts During the Cold Months
If you are among the many nonprofits that raise 40 percent or more of their annual incomes in December, you might already be thinking about your year-end appeals. Indeed, with so much at stake, beginning the process during the hot summer months barely can be considered an early start.
Even so, you still have time to take a step back and really think about how to reach your donors during those tricky months when they're bombarded by requests for money. How might you best get their attention and then hold it with the copy you write?
More and more, people read less and less. Thank you, Internet. So whether it's a direct-mail piece, e-mail message or integrated campaign, you need to get to the heart of the matter as quickly as possible to not only get your readers' attention, but also to get them to make donations.
Here's one approach you might try. Let's assume you're passionate about the issue that your organization addresses. Ask yourself: Why? Why do you care?
1. Now free-associate
List as many reasons as you can. After you write down all of the usual answers and think you're done, keep going. Get through the initial round of answers, and find out what's on the other side. Just keep free-associating.
Some things on your list will be logical, some emotional, some academic and some downright visceral. Write down everything that comes to mind, even reasons that might seem ridiculous or bad. There are no bad ideas while you're brainstorming. Spend at least an hour free-associating about why you care. And try not to let your pen stop moving.
2. Find your hook
After an hour, set your list aside. If you have time to leave it for a day, that's ideal. But leave it at least for a couple of hours. The important thing is that you come back to it fresh.
What stands out? What is immediately compelling? There's your hook.
Once you have your hook and you're ready to write, don't overwhelm your readers with information. Maybe there's one anecdote that embodies your hook. Perhaps there's one compelling statistic that brings it all home. Donors are busy people — never more so than during the holidays, when they also happen to receive year-end appeals from every other organization they've ever been in touch with.
3. Don't dawdle
Whatever it is you write to support your hook, get to the point. There are a couple of simple things you can do to write more directly and more compellingly.
- Avoid "being" verbs. It's amazing how much crisper your prose gets simply by cutting out be, is, are or am. It forces you to find action verbs to talk about your work, which (guess what?) makes your work sound a lot more exciting.
- Avoid passive voice. This is common advice, and passive voice is tricky to recognize. The use of passive voice often comes out of the humility that drew us to work in the nonprofit sector in the first place. It is perhaps not in our natures to be braggarts.
But using active voice requires that you own your good work and your success. Instead of saying, "Clients are referred to stellar services," go with, "We refer clients to stellar services." Note the being verb in the first sentence, often an indication of passive voice. You have a role to play in the lives of your clients, so be sure to own it.
Finding a strong hook for your story along with using active verbs and active voice help your prose dance across the page, and before your donors even know what's happening, they've read your entire appeal. It's just a short step from there to that all-important end-of-year donation. FS
Dan Gunderman is copy director at Big Duck. Reach him at email@example.com