Donors Are Different — But Some Things Never Change
“But our donors are different!” is a frequent response to advice on how to maximize income in direct response. And you’re right.
Donors to a charity feeding children in Africa have different motivations than donors wanting to rescue sea turtles or support a local museum. But people are much the same and have certain wants. Responding to those wants consistently improves fundraising income.
I want to know you are interested in me
Probably since cave dwellers drew pictures to communicate a wonderful opportunity to help save the mastodon, potential donors have asked, “What’s in it for me?” Oh, very few come right out and ask that, but they do wonder if this charity is interested in them or just in itself. Too often, fundraising letters, newsletters and e-mails read like a bad date: “We did this and we did that, and we’re really good at the other thing …” OK, but why does this matter to me?
Yes, making sure you talk about “you the donor” in the first paragraph is not new advice. But it’s still ignored. Given the nanosecond you have to engage a donor before he or she clicks “delete” or tosses your letter, ignoring this rule can make your nonprofit as extinct as the mastodon.
I want to read something interesting
Remember that old camp song that said, “Same song, second verse, a little bit louder and a little bit worse”? Are your fundraising communications guilty of that? In other words, is your attrition problem caused by boring your donors to death?
Even if you have one main program (“we feed hungry children”), it’s critical to find new ways to tell your story. Avoid having so much of a sameness to everything that donors think, “I read this already.” That doesn’t mean you reinvent yourself in every e-mail or letter, but tell your story in a fresh and interesting way.
I want to understand
A few years ago, I moved to the West Coast from the Midwest. I felt like I had to learn a new language. I no longer bought pop at the store; it was soda. Traffic jams weren’t the result of gapers' blocks; they were caused by looky-loos. I almost resorted to checking in the bookstore for a dictionary of local lingo.
Your donors and prospects don’t want to have to use a glossary of acronyms or resort to grammatically diagramming a sentence to understand what you want them to know. Make sure someone who doesn’t know your organization at all can tell you what the main message of your communication is.
Repeat after me: 'I am not the target audience'
When I teach fundraising writing, every session begins with the class saying in unison, “I am not the target audience.” Even if you are the typical gender, age group and demographic of your audience, you aren’t the target. Simply by being an employee of, volunteer at or consultant to your nonprofit, you know far more than your target audience does.
This isn’t an argument for dumbing down your copy. But remember who you are writing to, and make sure every word communicates to that person — not just to your senior management.
I used to visualize my Great-Aunt Mary when I was a 20-something writing to the typical donor to my nonprofit. Now that I am closer in age to the “typical” donor, I still think about someone who isn’t me and ask, “How will this communicate to her?”
Because I must never forget, “I am not the target audience …”
Pamela Barden is the creative juice and the copywriting machine behind PJBarden Inc. You can follow Pamela on Twitter @pjbarden.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.