Fundraising Copywriting: Stop the War!
Fundraisers! Copywriters! Let us unite to stop the war on ...
- And on and on
In fact, can we unite in agreement to stop using overbaked rhetoric as a substitute for compelling copy?
There's no better place to start than by stopping, "The War On ..."
War is an atrocity. It's the most horrific, wasteful, stupid and tragic way mankind has ever come up with to settle disputes. To equate it with a spat over whether to put up a crèche in city hall is a slap in the face to those who've lost their lives, their families, even their countries to the horror of war.
In the long run, extreme rhetoric does more harm than good. We worry about donor fatigue, as well we should. One way to reduce it is to make sure it doesn't become battle fatigue.
When every challenge is treated as if the fate of mankind hangs in the balance, it doesn't take long for the messages, and the emotions, to run together in donors' minds.
Be clear: This is not about arguing whether one organization's work is more important than another's.
This is a copywriting challenge.
A good writer must be able to convince the reader that the issue he or she is writing about matters deeply, and the donor's financial support is needed urgently.
But the line between urgency and hysteria is drawn with good judgment. And good writing.
Think about it this way: A book like "Crime and Punishment" tackles big themes and muses on the greatest mysteries facing mankind. By comparison, the fates of the sisters in "Little Women" are prosaic and tame. Yet when Jo March's discovers that Professor Bhaer loves her after all, our tears are no less heartfelt than at Raskalnikov's moment of cosmic redemption.
You don't need to cry, "the sky is falling!" or terrorize your reader into making a gift. Instead, write to create a world that pulls donors in and makes them care about what is actually going on.
With the probable exception of climate change, most of the causes we fight for won't literally bring about the end of the world if we don't win. It often feels that way. But the truth is, if we fail to legalize recreational pot smoking, millions of innocent refugees won't be driven from their homes and left to starve.
The "size" of the cause shouldn't affect the power of the writing. Hysterical hyperbole is like underlining in a letter. If we yell about everything, we end up yelling about nothing. Likewise, if we claim that the world hangs in the balance of every urgent issue, donors and prospects begin to think that nothing will really be the end of the world.
Words skillfully used can change the world by changing one mind. For the sake of our long-term relationships, let us all affirm the power of language and agree that every sentence does not have to be set on fire to inspire a reader to give.
Let us tone down the rhetoric and crank up the emotion with our writing skills, not doomsday prophesies. Donors will be grateful and reward our organizations accordingly.
Write real. You have nothing to lose but your declining donor engagement.
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 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, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.