Are the People Reading Your Mail Ruining It?
How do you know if your fundraising appeal is any good? Long before the results come in, you need to know your fundraising message is as strong as possible. When you ask people to support you, there's a lot on the line: your brand, your reputation, not to mention a sizable investment.
So you try to boost your ROI by hiring skilled people and letting them use their skills and talents to create messages that get attention, tell your story and persuade people to act.
Most of the time they do a good job. If they're allowed to.
The trouble is, too many people who aren't fundraisers are involved in the approval process. And they just can't resist the temptation to second-guess, overanalyze and "fix" the copy and art.
You can't make the chain of approval go away. Nor should you. Every stakeholder deserves a voice. But you can help those who aren't fundraisers by giving them some criteria by which to judge the strength of a package.
The answer to these questions should be YES:
- Is the creative driven by long-term strategy and based on past results?
- Is the language concise? Does it use short words with emotional impact?
- Is there little or no passive language?
- Does the letter have a single, easy-to-understand theme?
- Does the copy lead the reader from a compelling opening to an emotional ending?
- Is the ask strategy based on tested and proven principles?
- Does the package use words and images that are compelling but do not obscure the message?
- Does the copy give simple explanations of complex ideas?
- Is it smart without being too clever?
The answer to these questions should be NO:
- Are you evaluating the package based on what seems logical?
- Are you evaluating the package based on what feels right to you?
- Are you worried that the graphics (or copy) are "too depressing"?
- Are you worried that it's too much like last year's package (unless last year's package bombed)?
- Are you evaluating the package based on whether or not you would give to it?
- Are you afraid it will generate donor complaints?
- Have you solicited opinions from staff, administrators, the coffee guy or other non-fundraisers for the sake of getting an "objective opinion"?
- Are you giving in to amorphous objections like, "I don't know, I'm just not comfortable with it"?
Creative that gets results is not as touchy-feely as it seems. People who raise funds every day, for many different organizations, craft their messages strategically and base them on proven principles. In addition to their own expertise, they bring to the table an awareness of what others are doing and an understanding of what's working (and what's not) for organizations similar to theirs.
At the same time, those who review and approve your fundraising messages are not obliged to just rubber stamp everything that comes their way. Questioning and pushing back can help everyone fine-tune the creative. But the organizations that get the best results understand that what matters most are the donors' and prospects' feelings, not their own.
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.