Over the last two weeks, I’ve shared the first seven of my 11 commandments for fundraising. Two weeks ago, I discussedthe first four:
- Thou shalt not “take time off.”
- Thou shalt not ignore all the options available to you.
- Thou shalt not bore.
- Thou shalt not pander to.
Last week, I covered three more commandments:
- Thou shalt learn from others, but never assume.
- Thou shalt not muddle your “ask.”
- Thou shalt write like people speak.
Following are the remaining four commandments that can help you apply best practices and time-tested strategies in your fundraising — and avoid the mistakes that undermine our best efforts.
Commandment No. 8: Thou shalt remember that people aren’t readers
It’s not the length of your letter, e-mail or newsletter that can keep people from reading about your needs and the proven solutions you hope they will fund. Most people read what interests them, even if it’s more than a few paragraphs. What they set aside is something that looks like it’s just going to be too much work to read.
Your task is to make your fundraising look like an easy read. Some ways to make your copy visually appealing include using an easy-to-read font; indenting paragraphs and double-spacing between them; adding white space (one-inch margins at a minimum, for example); making it easy for scanners by having a P.S. that sums up the offer; and sparingly including bolding, underlining and all capital letters. With conversational language (see Commandment No. 7) and an “easy read look,” your donors may at the very least scan your copy and pick up the main points, and some will read it “cover to cover.”
Commandment No. 9: Thou shalt make the reply form user-friendly
Yes, there’s a lot of information you need to put on your reply form. But squeezing it in may not be a good solution. Is there enough room for your donors to provide the information you ask for, and can they write in their credit card numbers legibly? Is it easy to designate a gift to every project you wrote about that needs funding?
Sometimes we design our reply cards to accommodate automation or the preferences of the donation-processing team. Work with the team to find the best solution, but don’t end up with a design that makes processing easy but drives donors away. If it’s too hard to use your reply card, donors may simply give up.
Commandment No. 10: Thou shalt not save the teaser (or e-mail subject line) for the last second
These are not unimportant details of the mailing or e-mail. Rather, the few words in your teaser or subject line can determine if your message is read. Think of a newspaper headline; how often do you read an article because the headline caught your eye (and your imagination)?
Take time and care to write the most compelling teaser or subject line possible. It’s the best way to ensure that the rest of your copy has a chance to present your case to your prospective supporter.
Commandment No. 11: Thou shalt not try to be who you aren’t
This commandment is broken when nonprofits seize an opportunity to raise money when they don’t have the systems in place to respond properly to the need. Think about any natural disaster in recent years; inevitably, a few nonprofits jumped on the “Us, too!” bandwagon and raised money without having programs in place to efficiently use the money to do the most good.
No one wants to leave money on the table. But diluting your nonprofit’s efforts to try to develop a program that is outside your core competencies only hurts the great work you are doing in your area of expertise. Avoid the temptation to be who you aren’t, and instead be the absolute best at fulfilling your mission.
If you’ve been at this challenge we call fundraising for long, there are probably a few commandments you follow that I didn’t mention. Feel free to share them with colleagues below. The better we all are at fundraising, the better our world can become.