More 'Programs and Services'? Really?
In July, I ranted on my blog about the "3 Most Boring Words in Fundraising Appeals." They are, to me, "underserved," "programs" and "services." I railed against lazy fundraisers who use lame words and then expect donors to respond with gifts. The problem is there's little passion or energy in so much nonprofit language.
I received tons of feedback from my readers! They got what I was talking about. But they wanted to know what to say instead of those old, boring words. Everybody asked for some substitute words instead of the same old same old. So today, I'm giving you some examples.
I'm taking various wording from appeals from different organizations (some typical nonprofit appeal wording) and trying to transform it to something more compelling that opens a donor's wallet. Here are some examples of "before" and "after" fundraising appeals.
I made up some of these examples, and I also pulled some directly from the Web. (Disclaimer: I'm not a professional copywriter. So my stuff is not perfect. What I'm trying to do is show the direction you need to go in order to communicate to a donor. Also, writing takes serious time and attention. You need to write and rewrite. That's why professional copywriters make a lot of money — they have a rare skill.)
"Please fund our prison literacy program. XXX has designed a powerful program to serve children of prison inmates and their families by creating on-site libraries in prison visiting rooms, giving books for children to take home and keep, supporting prisons' Storybook Programs, and offering literacy seminars for prisoners to help them read with their children."
What's wrong? It uses passive voice: "has designed." It's about the organization and its program, not the result. The first word in the second sentence is the name of the organization. Plus, the sentence is way too long! What does the word "powerful" do for it? Nothing.
How to make it better? Try something like this: "Your gifts help strengthen the estranged family bonds between prisoners and the children they rarely see. The books and libraries you fund are important. But most of all, you help foster much-needed family time, care and attention — not only for the inmates, but for the children who need their love so very much."
What I tried to do was evoke emotion and talk about the end result that the donor is funding. I'm sure it could be better, but I spent a half hour just on those three sentences, trying to get them right. It just takes time.
"The many life-saving programs at the SPCA are made possible because of your donations!"
What's wrong? It uses passive voice: "are made possible." It is organization-focused, rather than donor-focused. It puts the programs before the concept of donating. It's generic and vague: "many life-saving programs."
How to make it better? "Your donations help save lives every day. Your gifts really do give the gift of life to loving, helpless animals — in so many wonderful ways."
"Please join these community leaders in supporting the arts in XXX County!"
What's wrong? "Supporting the arts" is an overused phrase that has little impact. Many arts organizations struggle with meaningful and direct language.
How to make it better? "Please join us and help bring art alive in our county." Or, "Please help bring more art to our community." Try being more direct about what art can do, and avoid stuff you've been saying for decades — such as "support the arts."
The bottom line is that it's hard to come up with something fresh, no doubt, but you have to try.
You are simply not going to get your donors' attention with jargon and lame words and phrases. Keep trying. Don't waste the valuable real estate on your website or donation page. Make every single word count!