5 Ways to Use One Powerful Fundraising Word
The most common words have the greatest number of definitions, the most nuanced meanings. For example, look through some successful appeals and acquisition packages and count the number of times you see the word "help."
"It's a common word, one you use every day," as Groucho Marx would say, and it probably pops up again in your fundraising copy. But the shades of meaning it offers can help you reach your readers in different ways with different results.
For example, here are five common fundraising phrases. No doubt you've used them all many times. On the surface they seem to mean pretty much the same thing. But your reader will hear each one a little differently. And quella piccola differenza, that little difference, can determine how your donor will feel — and how she'll respond — as she makes her way through your letter.
"Your gift will help" as in, "Your gift will help People for Puppies buy blankets for our kennels." You can't tell a donor her gift will fix a problem all by itself. This language serves a qualifier that lets you avoid that in a positive way. It invites a donor or prospect into your organization's community of caring. It tells her she'll be part of something meaningful. Something bigger than herself.
We often talk about the importance of giving donors a sense of exclusivity so they feel special. But it's also important to give them a feeling of inclusivity, so they feel like members of a strong, progressive group. It helps them believe their gifts matter.
"Please help me," as in, "Please help me provide shelter for more single moms like Kayla." This empowers the reader. It puts her on the front lines, shoulder to shoulder with you in making a change. It says, "I can't do it without you," which makes the donor feel needed.
"They need your help" heaps guilt upon the reader, but the good kind. The kind that motivates her to do something. You say, "These children need your help right away," and your reader envisions innocent, little, upturned faces gazing at her with sad, hopeful eyes. She can't just turn her back on them, can she?
"Will you help?" tells the reader she has a choice to make. Yet, even as it seems to give her the option of helping, it ramps up the pressure. "Will you help" also reads as a positive ask, suggesting the good things that will happen if she makes a gift.
"Won't you help?" on the other hand, has a darker tone. It implies that, if the reader is not part of the solution, she is part of the problem. It's an extension of Edmund Burke's idea that, "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
There's one more important type of help: the help you give your reader, by making her job easier. You do this, first, by breaking down your mission into bite-sized, easily digestible pieces. There's no good reason to spell out your every program in detail or fill her head with a lot of information she'll never remember. You don't eradicate poverty; you help a child find safe shelter for the night. You don't clean up after a disaster; you help the Anderson family rebuild its home.
Second, you help your reader by reducing the abstract down to the tangible. No matter how urgent the need, there is no feeling of humanity in a vast, faceless population. It is mind-numbing to consider that 16.4 million children live in poverty.
So you turn the mob of people in need into one hungry little girl. That is a manageable problem. One your donor can wrap her head and heart around. And one she's a lot more likely to respond to.
This is subtle stuff. But it's the kind of detail that is crucial in the art of persuasion. With 1,025,109.8 words in the English language (I wonder what that .8 word is), there's no way we can thoughtfully analyze every single one we write. Unless we've chosen to be fundraising copywriters. Then it's our job.
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.