Tag Archives: communications

the model of a modern major fundraising letter

Jeff Brooks at Donor Power Blog got my attention this afternoon with this post on writing like a human being, especially when writing fundraising appeals. I’ve been thinking about this lately, too.

His main example is that of a typically written fundraising letter –which Jeff complains, quite fairly, that it sounds like it was written by a robot.

Here’s his plea:

When you write to donors — whether you’re asking for money, thanking them for a gift, telling them what their giving accomplished, or even taking care of details — keep it natural, warm, and human. Make sure you’re awake from the organizational stupor that can strike.

I have a book on my shelf at work that I inherited from a previous occupant of my office, that is packed to the gills with “model” fundraising letters like this.

Letters like you get in the mail from organizations you’ve never heard of, sometimes with stamps or pens enclosed, letters that have gut-wrenching envelope copy (“Won’t you help?”), letters that go on for two or four pages, all of which sound like they were written by that special phalanx of typewriting monkeys that crank out heartstring-tugging development copy.

It’s atrocious.

I actually consulted this book the other day when I was looking for a novel way to open a fundraising letter, thinking, How bad could it be? …and I was so appalled at the suggestions (” ‘Please save my baby!’ were the last words she cried…” was one notable example) that I rammed it back onto the shelf next to the Idiot’s Guide to HTML 4.0 — that was also left behind by the previous occupant.

Honestly, is there ever any call to write like that anymore?

Doesn’t it all reek of outdated sales tactics, desperate salesmen, and endless late-night commercials featuring grimy third-world children with tears in their eyes?

Is that the business we’re in?

One of the reasons why it’s worth while to build relationships with current and potential donors, members, constituents, et al., by using social networking and two-way communication like blogs is so that we can dump these outdated, alienating, and only ever marginally effective methods once and for all.

Yes, of course we are still working for nonprofits, we still need to “make the ask” if we are going to get the money we need to get our jobs done, deliver our services, bestow our grants, or whatever it is we are charged to do with whatever resources we are able to gather.

But let’s take a step back from doing the same old thing when we ask for donations, just because that’s how we think those letters have to be written, or because some jerky book tells us that’s how we’ll get our lousy 2-4% return.

If all your other communications are honest, down-to-earth, and neighborly (as many are), why would you need to shift gears when it’s time to ask for money? Why would you shift from a friendly handshake to an unfriendly shakedown?

It’s jarring, that’s what it is. And seriously off-putting.

I think it’s because many nonprofit professionals are uncomfortable with asking for money, so we fall back on what the “experts” say we should do.

When really, it’s just like anything else. Ask yourself, How would I like to be asked? What would I find compelling?

And then tell your story — in your own voice, from your own throat. Not from some jerky book.


blogging to advance your core mission

Do you think your organization needs a blog? Or is it just a “someday” thing — a back-burner item that you feel just has to wait until you can get more on track with fulfilling your mission, becoming better known and better respected, building your donor base, getting the press to cover you, and driving attendance to your events?

And what, exactly, is it that you think blogs do?

Many organizations that would benefit from establishing and maintaining a blog are “putting it off” because they think of blogging as an “extra,” an additional, unnecessary piece of PR fluff that will take staff time away from the real, serious matters that are central to their mission.

A blog isn’t a bell or a whistle. A blog is a powerful, easily hefted tool that can achieve several goals at once. They are also cheap, easy, and incredibly low-tech.
This recent article in NPTech News (that’s nonprofit technology news for the uninitiated) spells out very clearly what the benefits of organizational blogging are.

My favorites:

1. Search engine optimization

Hosting a blog on your site can rapidly and vastly improve your search engine results. Why? Because Google (and other search engines) prize fresh content. Updating a blog takes almost zero technical skill and merely a basic business-writing level competency. For that, and ten minutes a day, you can greatly improve your page rank.

2. Expert in the Field

Don’t just be a children’s theater. Be an expert on children’s theater. Don’t just be an art gallery. Be a resource for the artist community. Don’t just sell your art online. Teach others about the process of creating art, about color theory, about outsider art. It’s not marketing – it’s sharing. The marketing is secondary, accidental — and far more effective because of that.

3. Awareness

    Be your own media source. Cover yourself, your mission, your services — relentlessly. Feature your volunteers, your sponsors, your staff, your members as much as humanly possible. Do all this in your own distinctive, human voice.

    4. Events

    Spend less on postage. Annoy your newsletter subscribers less. Maintain an interesting blog, with fresh content regularly served, and people will willingly visit and read your news and information. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.

    5. Fundraising

      Online donation is rising every year, and not by a little. Nonprofits of all sizes, missions, and demographics have successfully used “charity badges” to make it as easy as one or two clicks for supporters to donate online. Each blog post gives your readers a compelling reason to hit that Donate Now! button, and hit it hard.

      …and that’s only five out of the ten cited in the article.

      Do I think it’s a bit of headline-crafting hyperbole to say that “Every organization MUST have a blog?” Sure.

      But I also think that organizations would be harder pressed to make the case for not having a blog than for having one.

      For every core objective you have in your communications plan, there is a way that blogging can advance that objective.