Making It ‘All About Me

How many emails did you wake up to this morning?

If you’re like me, it was a lot. Dozens, maybe even 100 or more. But how many did you really read?

Unfortunately, communication from nonprofit organizations—even those we support and really care about—can end up quickly deleted. There’s simply too much going on in our lives to treat every piece of communication equally.

I received one email today that stood out. It survived the “first thing in the morning purge” for just one reason—the subject line used information I had provided to say, “This is all about you, Pamela!” No, it didn’t actually say that, but that’s the message I heard when I read, “Happy 1/2 Birthday! We have a surprise for you!”

(Call me shallow, but when your birthday falls right after the holidays—when everyone is tired, broke and partied out—you latch on to things like your half birthday. No one else may care, but I can enjoy my private celebrations just fine, thank you.)

It was fun to get this email because it really was all about me.

I know this is nothing new, but looking at the fundraising emails and appeals I receive, it’s clear that we’re still not getting it. We have something to say and we really need money, so we get caught up in “us” instead of “you.” Our donors do care about what we are doing, but most importantly, they care about what they can do to bring themselves joy through their philanthropy.

Today I am writing a series of email appeals for a client. I am struggling. I want to talk about us—the great work we do, the impact we’re having, the importance of our work. All good stuff, for sure. But I know it’s really all about the person on the receiving end of my keystrokes. And that’s tough. How do I write to the donor without being patronizing?

So I am going back to the basics. That means:

  • Connecting with the readers rather than expecting them to connect with me. Am I making my readers do all the work or am I making it easy for them to get excited about the opportunity to change at least some part of the world through a cause they can believe in?
  • Talking to them like friends—because they are friends.According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a friend is “a person who you like and enjoy being with; a person who helps or supports someone or something.” Do I really value donors, or are they just the means to an end that is really all about making me look good as a fundraiser?
  • Being honest. Don’t overpromise—but also don’t present something as worse than it is. Yes, people give because of need. They want to solve a problem. But that doesn’t give us license to be dishonest, either about what the problem is or the extent of the good that can happen if they donate.
  • Sharing good news, too. Do you know someone who answers the question, “How are you?” by actually telling you all her problems from a hangnail to a headache? You probably go out of your way to avoid talking to that person! We owe it to our donors to share good news from time to time, too. Yes, fundraising is fundraising; we don’t mix messages. But when your fundraising comes on the heels of something showing the great things that are happening because I gave, I’m going to want to do more. Bottom line: Saving money by not sending out newsletters is more likely costing you money.

George Crankovic, senior writer at TrueSense Marketing, recently said in the Future Fundraising Now blog, “The main thing, according to the experts in political emails, is for the subject, as well as the entire email, to strike a tone that’s casual, like a human interaction. Good advice for all fundraising.”

This old dog is grateful for friends—and the donors who help make the great causes I believe in possible. So how can I show I value our friendship? Sometimes it starts with a subject line.

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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