Read This in the Next 5 Minutes!!!
The TV glows in a dark living room at 3 a.m. when suddenly a commercial flashes onto the screen. The pitchman, smiling broadly, holds up a kitchen knife. But not just any kitchen knife. This is the amazing Ginsu. A knife so incredibly sharp it glides through a soft, ripe tomato, as paper-thin slices drop to the cutting board. And so strong it can cut this soda can, as the can falls into halves. And so durable it can stand up to this — as one hammer blow after another rains down on the blade of the knife but leaves no damage.
You’ve just witnessed a product demo. It’s the key part of the proven formula that makes up an infomercial. But what does this have to do with fundraising?
Gems of direct response
You might think infomercials are corny and campy. Maybe so. But they’re also gems of direct response. And with the product demo as the highlight, infomercials are crafted, cut and polished to do one thing — engage prospects so completely that they respond — NOW!
That’s the goal of fundraising, too — engaging donors so completely that they respond now.
With a bit of thought about the offer you make to your donors, it’s possible in the copy for your appeals to create something akin to the power of the infomercial demo — to create a kind of demo that takes place in your donor’s mind’s eye.
Let’s take a look at the role the demo plays in an infomercial, and then we’ll see how to apply it to fundraising.
The demo, most of all, is a dramatization of the product’s benefits. But in order to be successful, it has to do a few things. First, it has to surprise people. Pitchmen know that they can’t bore their prospects into buying. So the demos are unexpected, unusual and sometimes a little over the top. OK, a lot over the top. But the exaggerated use of the product can break viewers out of their apathy and draw them in.
Second, the demo has to show the product in use. When customers see the product in action, they can envision themselves using it. At that point, they become involved and they start selling themselves.
Third, the demo addresses customers’ natural skepticism. They wonder, “Does that thing really work?” The demo shows the product in an exaggerated way to prove its functionality.
The demo does a lot of the selling in an infomercial, but how can we get some of its power into fundraising copy?
How does it work for fundraising?
Here’s an example for a charity that sends Bibles around the world. The offer presented to donors is to give in order to send Bibles to people in closed countries — in this case, China. The “demo” in copy goes like this:
“What will it be like when you give? Just try this. Take a look at a map of China, and trace your finger on it, starting from Yinchuan in the north down to Nanning in the south and then from Tingri in the west to Shanghai in the east. You’ve just drawn the cross of Christ over China. You’ve just blessed that closed country. You’ve just blessed all the persecuted Christians there, all the seekers, and all our brothers and sisters in Christ who are worshiping in secret. That’s what will happen when you give now to send the Word of God into China.”
Reading this, the donor can see herself taking this specific and unexpected action. She can see herself blessing that country in her mind’s eye. And as she does, she’s demonstrating to herself what her gift will do, how her gift fulfills a religious obligation, and what it will mean to her personally and religiously when she gives. It involves donors far more than the usual talk about sending Bibles around the world.
Here’s another example, this one a bit over the top. But it shows how a somewhat exaggerated demo of the work that this charity does will be more engaging and memorable for donors:
“To get an idea about how good you’ll feel when you give, picture this. Pack up an SUV with boxes of medicine tied down on the roof and in the back, and now get in and drive the 7,000 miles to Tajikistan, over land and by ferry across the ocean. When you get there, go all throughout the country, making stops at the remote clinics and hospitals, delivering the boxes of medicine. Watch as the doctors and nurses receiving this treasure clasp their hands together, overcome with emotion. Watch as they thank you again and again for the medicine and for your compassion and generosity. That’s what your gift will do. Every dollar you give will cover the cost to ship this vital, lifesaving medicine to where it’s needed to save lives.”
With this demo, donors can see for themselves, in their mind’s eye, how their gifts will be put to use, and they can see the charity’s work from a unique perspective — the perspective of the donor actually doing it.
Here’s one more example. This charity advocates for the anti-abortion cause, and the offer to donors is the opportunity to change hearts and minds about abortion:
“What will your gift mean to you and our cause? To get an idea, think about this. Pull a group of your friends and neighbors together and, with their eyes locked onto you, pour out your heart about abortion, moving them with your impassioned plea that abortion kills … that it ends an innocent baby’s life … that it destroys the mom’s life, leaving her wracked with guilt and pain. Watch as they nod their heads in agreement, sensing your passion, and as they vow to fight this evil with as much spirit as you. And once you’ve convinced them, go all across the state doing this, talking to people, moving them, inspiring them, each time to a larger audience until you’ve touched everyone’s heart. That’s what it’s like when you give.”
This demo taps in to donors’ deeper emotions about the issue, and it not only shows donors how they’ll feel about changing hearts and minds, but also dramatizes the advocacy that the charity does.
In each of these three examples, the demo portrays the mission of the nonprofit in a way that puts donors right in the center of the work, and that’s the essence of donor-centric fundraising.
What’s more, the demo itself involves the donor. If we want donors to get immersed in our appeals, we have to find new ways to surprise them. That’s what keeps them reading. The minute their expectations are confirmed about what’s coming next in an appeal, we’re boring them. And that means we’re losing them. And their support.
But when we surprise them again and again, they stay interested, wondering what will happen next. Then they’re taking in our message while their everyday skepticism is suspended for a few minutes. And chances are, as they discover for themselves all the good they can do, they’ll give — not only to the appeal that’s in front of them but also to the appeals they’ll receive in the future. And the result will be stronger donors relationships, greater loyalty and more funding.
An agency-trained, award-winning, freelance fundraising copywriter and consultant with years of on-the-ground experience, George specializes in crafting direct mail appeals, online appeals and other communications that move donors to give. He serves major nonprofits with projects ranging from specialized appeals for mid-level and high-dollar donors, to integrated, multichannel campaigns, to appeals for acquisition, reactivation and cultivation.