Speaking of Fundraising: Copywriting for the Post-Recession
The recession that has dragged us down for the better part of two years can't last forever. So here's an important question: As much as you've been wishing and praying for this crisis to finally go away, what have you been doing to prepare for it?
Many of us have tried to cope with the hard times by adopting a hunker-down attitude. We got a lot more conservative about our mail and e-marketing strategies and much more cautious about our creative.
But as the dark clouds start to lift, we're likely to find that it's a lot harder than we expected to shed that bunker mentality and start acting with confidence again. So here are seven tips to help you get back up on the horse:
1. Snap out of it! "Fundraisers' outlook remains gloomy," said a headline in early August from Philanthropy Journal. Maybe so, but please remember that this is a confidence-driven economy. Markets rise and tumble to a degree on consumer behavior but to an even greater degree on consumer confidence. Donors want to support a winner. Hold your head high, and convince them you are one. Yes, it takes guts, but victory always does.
2. Proclaim the end of the recession. Remember, one of the fundamentals of direct marketing is you have to tell your readers what to think, how to feel and what to do. In a universe where we say things like, "Place your gift, along with this form, in the enclosed envelope," you can bet you have to begin by telling them why they should give again.
3. Stick with what works. Yes, that's the same thing you were being told in all those how-to-survive-the-recession articles. And it's still true. Proven strategies should always prevail because they're, well, proven. The difference is that now they should be a dominant part of your creative mix instead of your sole philosophy.
Think of creative as your fundraising portfolio. In tough times, you shift your investments to more conservative stocks to make sure you don't lose too much. When the economy is stronger, you diversify and extend your risk in the hope of increasing your reward.
4. Test what works. Necessity might be the mother of invention, but confidence is the mother of innovation. Breakthrough packages don't come from timidly following what has always worked. In one of the hundreds of how-to-survive-the-recession presentations I listened to over the past year, I heard a direct-mail guru say that creativity equals risk. Maybe so. But remember that risk equals reward.
Taking risks is hard at any time, but coming out of a recession, it feels even scarier. That's why you need to be prepared for rule number …
5. Be uncomfortable. You're probably thinking, "But I've been uncomfortable for the last 18 months!" I know you have, but again, in an economic turnaround confidence is everything. If you want to get a jump on the good times, you have to believe in the recovery before everyone else does. That means stepping outside your comfort zone, before the "experts" tell the rest of the pack that it's safe. As Bob Dylan says, where the herd has gone, the fruit has already been eaten.
And speaking of Dylan, when you want to say new things to your donors in a powerful way …
6. Become a poet. William Faulkner said novelists are failed short-story writers, and short-story writers are failed poets. In other words, great writing is about saying as much as possible, as emotionally as possible, in as few words as possible.
This can be surprisingly tough sometimes. Program stakeholders can insist that you simply have to mention their special issues. CEOs often feel it's imperative to give donors a complete picture of the organization or spell out your mission in specific detail. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in principle. But if you want to make people emotional enough to give you money, you have to know when to talk and when to shut up.
7. Position yourself for growth. Tell your supporters the recession left you with huge needs. Not only do you have to play catch-up for the donations that went flat, but you have to grow to meet the increased demand for your services.
The signs are everywhere: Housing sales are starting to turn around, auto sales have been stimulated and even consumers are beginning to show signs of "recession fatigue." Sooner rather than later, the word is going to spread that it's time to start fundraising like a winner again. Proactive organizations will have the best chance to start building — and rebuilding — strong, profitable donor relationships. Will you be a leader in the fundraising recovery or a follower? FS
Willis Turner is a senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.