This Dog Will Die, Unless …
Attendees at my two-day “Secrets of Copywriting” seminar at the DMA 2006 Annual Conference in San Francisco last week brought samples for a critique. And almost every sample from the fundraising sector — and virtually every appeal I receive — has the same problem. I mean that literally: They all look the same. And I’m not even talking about the free address labels and note cards.
Please don’t think me callous when I say typically, there’s a lovable dog to save, a needy child to support, a desperate disease or disaster victim to rescue … along with formulaic copy such as: “We do important work for animals”; “Without your support, this dog will die”; “Please send money now.”
Unfortunately, most fundraisers mistakenly believe that if they just state their case as persuasively (e.g., emotionally and urgently) as possible, people will respond. But in my anthropological way of looking at advertising, I think you have to go further. You have to “get into the head” of the person you’re communicating with.
Start by asking yourself:
*What’s going on “out there” that might affect a person’s decision making? I’m talking about universal factors, such as: the price of gas; rising interest rates; declining real-estate sales; values-related scandals; increasing crime; terrorism.
*What impact are these “events” having on how people think or feel about their lives? Is their mood comfortable? Worried? Confident? Cautious? You can get a sense of this simply by reading newspapers/magazines, observing social trends, learning about new technologies that are becoming popular … and asking yourself, “What are the implications for us?”.
*Based on your answers, how can you relate to these people (your potential donors), empathize with them and demonstrate to them that you care about THEIR situation? You need to give them a sense that you understand the factors that might motivate them to donate at this time. Or not. In its simplest form, this is not unlike when the flight attendant announces: “We know you have lots of choices for air travel; thanks for picking us.”
*Going through this process, you’ll start moving away from the, “We have needs/we need you,” approach … and more toward, “We can help answer a need that you have.” To feel empowered. To feel that you’re dealing with an organization you can trust. To feel like you’re a valued member of a community.
People want to “do the right thing” — and not feel guilted into it — but sometimes, it’s hard to prioritize which right thing is the thing to do. Help them understand this. Look at the LIVESTRONG bracelet phenomenon. What can you learn from that approach about where peoples’ heads are?
Emphasize the importance of the unique relationship between you and them, and I bet you’ll see some pretty doggone good results.
Steve Tharler is chief guide at THARLER DIRECTs, where he provides strategic planning, mentoring and creative services to clients. He can be reached directly at 508.653.6840 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.tharlerdirects.com