As a writer of fundraising copy, one of my greatest frustrations is having to create new copy on a regular basis with little or no fresh material to work with. Between privacy laws and too-busy-to-write-stories-up issues, it’s not unusual to have next to nothing to begin with.
Even if your writing is limited to the year-end eAppeal, a thank-you letter or a proposal, you likely know how challenging it is to keep saying what is basically the same thing in a way that is fresh and unique. But that creates a problem — I firmly believe that monotonous copy is a sure path to donor attrition. I have often said (so much so that I’ve likely become boring) that “a bored donor is a former donor.”
It often doesn’t take much to get you started on writing a great message, so even when there seems to be nothing new to write about, consider these hidden treasures.
What Is the ‘Other Guy’ Saying?
Reading what you can from similar organizations can help you recall a story or a fact that you can use as the beginning of your writing project. I’m not suggesting plagiarism; rather, read with an open mind and see if anything sparks a fresh angle you can take.
Sometimes even reading unrelated copy can help. I confess I sometimes look at famous quotes on a given topic, and often, one of those will spark an idea that I can move ahead with. (At the very least, it makes my procrastination seem more purposeful.)
What Are Your Donors Saying?
Collecting tidbits from the notes donors include with their checks can be a great source of brief comments that can be woven into your copy. In my experience, these short notes often include a turn of phrase that is a hidden gem. I recently had a client provide me with a few dozen notes (most just a sentence or two) — and truth be told, a few expressed the value of the nonprofit better than I could have done so myself.
What Are Your Volunteers and Staff Saying?
Getting people to write down what they see and hear can be hard; instead, ask them to call your office phone after hours and leave a message with the story. Except for the genuinely bad story (“After we helped her, things were better until she was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison”), try to use most of what you get, and tell the person who provided it how you incorporated it. This encourages that volunteer or colleague to keep providing these nuggets to you.
What Are the Statistics Saying?
Yes, stats can be boring (unless they are an integral part of grant or donor reports or requests), but you can make a statistic meaningful to your more typical donor by putting it in visual terms. For example, in the county I live in, 20% of people are hungry. On its own, 20% is kind of flat. But put it in terms I can visualize — of the five people you saw at the bus stop this morning, it’s likely one didn’t know where his or her next meal was coming from — and it becomes a much more meaningful way to present a need.
Mark Twain, one of my favorite sources of inspiration, wrote this: “And mind you, emotions are among the toughest things in the world to manufacture out of whole cloth; it is easier to manufacture seven facts than one emotion.”
Until we have files of resources to comb through every time we need to find a fresh way to ask for money, keep seeking out these hidden treasures. Ideally, one will give you the emotional “hook” to make your next fundraising message irresistible — and that sure beats manufacturing emotion.
Published in NonProfit Pro, September 11, 2020