Fundraising Copy: Turning ‘Same Song, Another Verse’ Into a Hit

One of the challenges in fundraising — especially with mass communication like direct mail, e-appeals and newsletters — is keeping it fresh. That’s especially true if our missions is narrowly focused. After all, how many times can you say, “People in our city are hungry and need your help” without it becoming white noise?

In reality, donors usually aren’t as “bored” by our messages as we may become. After all, they don’t live with our programs at least eight hours a day, five days a week. But it’s still challenging for fundraisers to keep the excitement in the message and continually remind donors and prospects of what makes the mission worthy of their support.

As you’re planning your communications, here are a few tips for keeping things fresh.

Tell the story differently
Stories in fundraising often follow this rough outline: the problem, our solution, results experienced or hoped for. (Yes, that’s oversimplifying, but we know we aren’t writing the great American novel in our appeals.) Instead, turn the story around, and start from a different point.

Take a look at these two ways to position a story:

  • “When we first met Jane three years ago, she was living on the streets, addicted to drugs and willing to do almost anything to find help.”
  • “On Sunday morning, Jane’s beautiful voice rang out across the cathedral. There was a quiet hush as the last notes faded. But Jane was almost silenced a few years ago — by a drug deal gone bad …”

I’m not suggesting one is right and the other is wrong. Rather, if you generally go one direction when telling a story, try to turn it around. Tell it from a different perspective. Read other proven appeals that you receive, or look at on Who’s Mailing What! and ask what makes you see a problem in a new light.

Warning: Don’t do “different’ just to be different. There are a lot of examples of unique approaches out there, but usually we have no idea if they worked or not — so simply copying another’s approach can be dangerous. Your goal is to make sure the story adds value to fundraising, and that requires engaging your donor or prospect.

Use numbers in a new way

Statistics can help our case or confuse our donors. It’s often a matter of how we present them to our audience. Sometimes we use bullet points, and other times we embed numbers in the copy. A more recent trend is to use infographics, which, when done right, can be very powerful. (Frankly, too often they are not done right and they lose their impact.)

It’s always a challenge to keep the reader emotionally engaged, and an overdependence on lists of statistics may hurt that goal. So think about how you can make those numbers impactful. For example, instead of simply saying, “One in five American high school graduates can’t read,” show a photo of five high school students and say, “One of these students will finish high school and not be able to read. Help us change that before it’s too late!”

In other words, put a face to a number. Sometimes it’s hard to get our heads around numbers or to emotionally connect to them. But a photo can add impact that makes the numbers hit home for your donor or prospect. So look for ways to be creative — and communicate the most effectively — when you have a powerful statistic to share.

Make the need real
We all struggle with raising funds for operations, especially when there is a special need that’s as sexy as roof repair or carpet replacement. It’s a fact of every organization; it’s hard to function without some basic operational costs. But they just aren’t always as compelling to donors.

Instead of asking for a gift “for our operating costs,” break those costs down into needs that are visual and then turn it into a mini-campaign. For example, using the example of a roof, create a short-term focus on “The Roof Riders” or something creative that can turn mundane into attention-grabbing. Figure out how much it costs to replace a square foot of roof and try to get “sponsors” for that, a square yard or more. Or invite supporters to sign a shingle (before it is nailed to the roof, of course) if you are a local organization. These ideas may not resonate with you, which is OK; just be creative and find a way to turn mundane into marketable.

Too often, feeling bored about telling the same fundraising story over and over is a result of our own lack of time spent considering how to turn usual to unusual. We need to challenge ourselves to try a new approach or look at a problem from a fresh angle. We may end up discarding what we come up with after exploring it a while, but simply trying to find a new approach can lead to new thinking that eventually does unleash a new approach to telling our story.

Yesterday, The Agitator talked about “absence of serious innovation.” Especially if the fundraising department is just you, innovation can be the last thing you have time for. But this old dog has found that trying to find a creative angle to tell the same story again and again can re-energize and lead to new thinking that makes work fun again — and fundraising successful.

What’s your secret for keeping the freshness in fundraising?

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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