Three Risks You Should Never Take. And Three You Should
Fundraising is risky business. Anytime time you ask someone to give you money in return for nothing more than a good feeling, you're in chancy waters. But some risks make more sense than others. For example, don't take these risks :
Writing before you spec
Direct-mail appeals are not essays. Every page and component costs money, and thus, has an expected ROI. So before you write your first word, lay out the whole package in your mind: sizes, colors, inserts, perfs, every detail. You'll find that establishing your framework in advance will actually help you write more effectively.
As ace copywriter Judith Warrington says, "You can always spot direct-mail writers. Whenever someone proposes a new idea, the first thing they do is start folding pieces of paper." Just jumping into the copy with no parameters is, to paraphrase Robert Frost, like playing tennis without a net.
Trusting your gut
Feel free to ignore this advice if you've written successful fundraising copy for a decade or more. If you have, then your instincts have probably been retrained by thousands of experiences. This is how Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-hour rule works. (If you're not familiar with it, see here. If you haven't though, your instincts will let you down.
Donors and prospects see the world — and themselves — very differently than we tend to think they do. And we almost always tend to oversimplify people's complicated and contradictory motivations. Or worse, we assume they'll react and respond he way we would. They won't.
If you're wondering why this rule focuses on direct mail, it's because the third risk you should never take is:
Putting all your eggs in one e-basket
If you judge by the amount of attention paid to them by fundraising pundits, you'll think e-marketing, and especially social media, completely dominate the fundraising landscape. But if you go by actual results, stodgy old direct mail (and annoying old telemarketing) still beat the flashier new media by a better than 4-to-1 ratio... even with the higher upfront cost.
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.