Be Brief and Compelling
“Brevity is the best recommendation of speech.” — Cicero
“Brevity is the wit of soul.” — Shakespeare
“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” — William Strunk, “The Elements of Style”
Today’s Associated Press Style, used by most journalists and professional communicators, seeks to abbreviate copy and save valuable space—whether in print or online—knowing that readership and comprehension both increase with brevity.
Expert communicators have been touting the benefits of brevity since the dawn of the written word it seems. So why do we so often find brevity so hard to achieve in fundraising communications?
When we wrote campaign planning and feasibility study case statements that ranged from six to 10 pages, our readership in advance of confidential interviews was just over 75 percent. To improve this, we moved to a four-page, 1,500 maximum word count—readership soared to nearly 100 percent. Recently, everyone we interviewed in a planning study had read the case statement, including two billionaires.
Brevity is a discipline. It forces an organization to answer the most important questions and to share benefits, outcomes (the difference a donor can make) in a succinct and compelling fashion.
When facilitating strategic planning, we share that the test for a great mission or vision statement is that it is clear, accurate and memorable. We encourage you to use the same criteria for all your fundraising copy.
Fundraising communications isn’t marketing. It’s storytelling. But it is not, however, a novel. You’ve got to be able to share a story to get the most impact in the most concise way possible. Continually educate and coach leaders—volunteers and staff—on the benefits of brief communication. And insist on it to maximize your success.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.