Pop Art Boring report man fell asleep  e1516262595881

How to Keep Writing When You’re on Empty

NOTE: This blog post was written during — and is about — normal times. Now is not a normal time. There are a number of suggestions below — like “sneak out to a movie” and “do your work in a café” — that you cannot or should not do right now. I hope you will take this advice in the spirit of what you will do when things get back to something like normal. In the meantime, do the things you can to overcome the barriers. Stay healthy, look out for others, and be kind!  – Jeff

I know how it is. Sometimes you’re just a wrung-out sponge. No more ideas. No creative energy. No inspiration.

Even with deadlines looming and colleagues waiting, the thought of sitting down to write your next fundraising project fills you with loathing and dread.

That’s okay. It’s normal, and it happens to all writers.

The problem is, your deadlines don’t know that. They march on no matter how empty you are.

And nobody wants to hear your whining about it.

Seriously, one of the most annoying — and pointless — things you can do is talk to your colleagues about how blocked and uninspired you’re feeling. Cry me a river, they’ll say, rolling their eyes.

But I have some good news: There are ways to beat that empty feeling.

It’s not easy, but it is simple: You just need to change the size and shape of whatever box you find yourself in.

You see, you are always in a box. Sometimes it’s a cozy, comfortable, happy little box that you really love to be in. Sometimes it’s a gigantic box, with plenty of room to run around as much as you want. But often, the box is cramped, uncomfortable, weird-smelling, and missing all the things you need to do great work.

Your box is made of two things:

  1. Your circumstances — the things outside of you, like the time of year, what your topic is, how busy you are, etc.
  2. Your attitude — how you feel about those things.

There are things you can do to change your circumstances, but on the whole, they are hard to change. How you feel about those circumstances is more important than what those circumstances are. This is why the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Because nobody has an attitude about someone else’s circumstances. Their problems always look simpler and more solvable as a result.

There are many things you can do to change your attitude, to break out of your box and recharge your energy.

Starting with these quick actions can rescue you from being stuck in a matter of minutes:

  • Meditate or pray.
  • Breathe for one minute (or more). Take deep and slow breaths and pay close attention to how it feels.
  • Turn on some music. (This doesn’t work for everyone, the type of music is important — and specific to you. Experiment with this!)
  • Write in a journal. (Maybe write about how it feels to be empty.)
  • Drink some cold water. (The colder, the better.)
  • Drink caffeine.
  • Read, listen to, or watch something funny.
  • Read, listen to, or watch something inspiring.

If the quick methods aren’t doing the trick, you may need to take more time-consuming steps. These things may take an afternoon or even a whole day.

  • Do something creative other than writing: draw, make music, dance. You don’t have to be good at it. Just do it.
  • Watch a movie. For best results, sneak out and watch it at a theater.
  • Sneak out and do anything. Doing something you don’t have permission to do can have an almost magic effect on how you feel.
  • Listen to music actively. Really concentrate on it.
  • Go to a museum.
  • Work out.
  • Work in a café. (This is my go-to option when I’m stuck. Cafés seem to have good writing magic for me.)
  • Take a nap.
  • Take a walk.
  • Copy — by hand — a passage of writing you admire. (This is weirdly powerful. I don’t fully understand why, but it really charges me up sometimes!)
  • Memorize something. Poetry, scripture — anything you’d like to have in your head.

Beyond the things that can recharge you and overcome blockage, there are a number of “maintenance” activities that can prevent the emptiness before it hits:

  • Now and then, take the long way home. You’ll be surprised how energizing that can be.
  • Participate in community activities.
  • Practice thankfulness: Think about everything that’s good in your life and say “Thank you” for it all.
  • Take vacations. I know it can be hard. But it really makes a difference.
  • Study a language.
  • Take a class.
  • Learn a new skill, especially something that’s unlike the things you normally do.

Finally, cultivate a general attitude about writing: It’s just a task.

Think about it this way: Do you suppose your plumber ever gets “plumber’s block”?

The answer is: Of course she does! Sometimes she really doesn’t feel like doing anything at all involving pipes and water!

But she does it anyway.

Writing is hard. But when you get right down to it, writing is just another profession. Writers aren’t special. The blockage that we experience sometimes stops us cold — because we let it. If you remember that writing is just another task like plumbing, it can help you get on with it even when you don’t feel the magic.

And these exercises can really help you get out of the box. Let me know if you have any additional things that work for you by posting a comment below!

Get the help and inspiration you need to keep you writing with strength and confidence: Join The Fundraisingology Lab!

Related posts:

CFRE Points:
Pop Art Fundraising Gold e1571122650180

One Rule That Can Turn Your Fundraising to Gold

“This is why people should give!” the new executive director said. He dramatically threw a newspaper on the table, leaned back, and glowered at everyone sitting around the conference room.

The newspaper was folded open to A13. Near the bottom was a smallish article headlined “Study: Homelessness Up Sharply.” It related how there were nearly 20 percent more homeless people in the community than there had been three years before.

“We need to be straight with our donors,” he continued. “Show them these facts—not emotional pabulum.”

I was the one who’d cooked up the pabulum.

Specifically, it was a direct mail letter focusing on an unemployed local man who’d lost everything after two years. He was living under a bridge, on a diet of what he called “homeless mac and cheese” — made from a packet of ramen noodles with a handful of cheese puffs mixed in. The resulting orange stew is warm, fills you up, and tastes almost like real food. But it won’t keep you healthy for long.

The executive director hated my letter because it zeroed in on one person, not the “real problem” of increasing homelessness. It wasted an entire paragraph on homeless mac and cheese — a meaningless distraction. And my letter never once cited the new study on homelessness. Worse yet, it never mentioned the organization’s pioneering program that helped the homeless recover their shattered self-esteem. My letter was about meals.

“Anyone can serve up meals,” the director said. “Our self-esteem program is unique.”

In fact, he’d gone to the trouble of composing a letter to replace the travesty I’d written. It was one-page long (mine was four). It opened with an extensive quote from the newspaper, then went on to describe the self-esteem program. Finally it bullet-listed several other programs he was proud of. It didn’t directly ask. It just sort of hinted: “Many in our community are banding together against the scourge of homelessness.” He didn’t want his organization to be known as one that begs for quarters in the street. There was no P.S. (“That’s unprofessional,” he sniffed.)

You’ve probably been in a situation like this, so you can guess the outcome. We mailed the executive director’s letter, and received the lowest response in the organization’s history. It was a devastating loss of revenue, so deep the organization had to let staff go and scale back their services.

The worst thing about this story I’m telling you — and you’re probably already thinking this — is that it happens all the time.

What is it about fundraising that causes people who know nothing about it to feel so confident they can do it better than the pros? People who’ve never read a fundraising book . . . never read one of the hundreds of blogs on the topic . . . never been to a conference rich with useful content . . . never labored under a mentor who knew the profession — they know they can do better than those who’ve done all that.

Houston, we have a problem. And it’s costing us millions, maybe billions, in lost revenue. If Congress were debating a bill that even hinted at doing as much damage to revenue as the misguided red pens do, we’d march on Washington!

How can we stop this!?

There’s a solution, and it’s already at work: the Ahern Rule.

It’s named after master craftsman Moceanic course-creator Tom Ahern, who has an agreement with his clients: “Unless I’ve spelled your name wrong, you don’t change my copy.” (He calls it the Verbatim Clause; I’d rather name it after him.)

When Tom writes your fundraising copy, you agree to let him apply his expertise without your guesswork. You have to let him succeed without interference. He’s not quite as it sounds. He happily hears suggestions from his clients, and he freely admits they often make suggestions that strengthen his work. But the rule keeps the destructive garbage out.

Not every fundraising writer is Tom Ahern. Many don’t have the mastery to justify a hands-off privilege. And every writer, no matter how talented and experienced, can benefit from the thoughts of someone who knows fundraising and can comment based on facts and experience.

But we could raise a lot more money for our causes if we could say, “Thanks for the feedback, but no thanks,” to misguided attempts to fix our work. Someday. Maybe.

(Adapted from How to Turn Your Words into Money by Jeff Brooks.)

Read these great posts by Tom Ahern:

Want to take terrific online courses from Tom Ahern and other fundraising masters? They are all available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Check it out.

CFRE Points:
Pop Art Senior Woman Riding Scooter e1570866857578
CreativityDirect MailDonor CareDonor LoveDonor PsychologyWriting

2 Truths Your Donors Wish You Understood about Direct Mail

I am a Gen Xer. I am not the core target market for direct mail. In my early twenties I had to learn two lessons quickly in order to do my job as a Fundraising Appeal Manager.

Lesson one: The people who respond to direct mail grew up with the post being THE main way people communicated outside of in person

The audience who loves and responds to direct mail the most are the Silent Generation born before 1945 (and we are talking about those born in the last 1920’s to 1945) and the older of the Boomers, so let’s say those born 1946 to the 1950’s.

If you’re younger than that, you no doubt see the mailbox as a container full of bills, catalogues, and other not-so-wanted things.

But a few decades ago, the average person could count on there being personal letters from people they knew in every post. Try to imagine how different it would be to approach the mail knowing you’d be connecting with friends and family — some of them people you haven’t seen in years. The post was a source of precious human connection. And even though it was possible to reach distant people by telephone, it was prohibitively expensive, used mainly for emergencies and very important news, if at all.

You and I approach the mail with little sense that there’s anything good in there, and rarely anything from a real person.

Not most of our donors. They expect good things to come in the mail.

This is why direct mail — which to my imagination seems so unlikely to be at all interesting — can work. And work very well in many cases.

Break free from your sense that the mail is almost entirely boring, annoying, and irrelevant.

Do your best to imagine what it’s like to think of the mail as magical, beautiful, and important.

That’s when you’ll start to succeed in direct mail fundraising.

Lesson two: Direct Mail donors want mail from causes they are connected to and care about

Our core direct mail audience range from their 60s to their 90s. Most don’t work the long hours you and I do. They don’t have the kids’ dinner to scramble together in the evening, along with the household chores, being nice to the significant other, and doing all those work/life balance things we know we should be doing. They have more time.

They also have more life experience. They saw more than any generation before due to their access to radio, TV, phones, print, and later the internet. They have lived through wars, famines, and revolutions. They saw the rise of AIDS. They fought for civil rights and lead the feminist movement.

Every generation tends to believe their own time is the most dramatic and important of all time, but think about it: people who are now older lived through more crisis, danger, and drama than you or I can imagine. They have a strong sense of connection with the world, which comes from their experience. It also comes with age, because changes in brain chemistry increase their sense of connection with the world.

They see and experience their world differently from you and me.

Direct mail may seem to us like irrelevant and unwanted “junk mail.” To a true direct mail donor, it is a chance to change the world!

That’s the reality you’re working in when you work in direct mail.

Learn more about the often-surprising ways we connect with donors by taking our most popular online course, Irresistible Communications for Great Nonprofits. It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Check it out.

Related posts:

CFRE Points:
Pop Art Mail with Wings

26 Tips for More Effective Fundraising Writing

1. Write the call to action (the reply device or landing page) first

It’s very un-Zen to say it, but fundraising is more about the destination than the journey. You’re going to arrive a lot more successfully when you know exactly where you’re going.

2. Write the thank-you letter next

I find it very helpful to express thanks before fully expressing the ask. As in tip #1, it can clarify where you’re going.

3. Think of 25 reasons why a donor should give to you

Then, get rid of all the reasons that are some version of “because we/our processes/our values/our staff are awesome.” Then start over until you have 25 donor reasons a donor should give to you.

4. Ask yourself, “How would the trashy tabloid press write this?”

Low-brow publications know the value of the amazing, the lurid, the outrageous, the unexpected — because they live or die by impulse purchases. Same with click-bait websites. Are you doing that, or are you imitating “respectable” journalism, purposely keeping it as colorless and purely factual as possible? Guess which approach gets more readership — and raises more funds?

5. Ignore your brand guidelines

Your brand guidelines are meant to sharpen and define your message and make it consistent. But there’s usually a fatal flaw: The guidelines are all about you, not about your donors. They’re all about self-focused communication, and that will hurt your fundraising. There are pro-fundraising brand guidelines out there (I’ve seen a couple of them) … but they are truly rare.

6. Show, don’t tell

If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class, you’ve heard this. It’s good advice. It’s easy to assert that something is sad, or great, or special, or cutting-edge. It’s more persuasive to paint the picture that add up to those things.

7. Overdo it

Be too dramatic. Too emotional. Too strong. Eight times out of 10, you’ll realize later that you didn’t overdo it at all. The other two times — well, it’s much easier to tone it down than it is to pump up weak and underdone writing.

8. Use your data

You know quite a bit about the people you’re writing to — their names, their cities, what and when they’ve given, and more. Use these facts to make your copy more personal and relevant. Just make sure you don’t sound awkward and robotic.

9. Flunk your English teachers

Your teachers meant well and they probably taught you many useful things. But not everything they taught was useful, especially for fundraising. Paragraphs don’t have to start with topic sentences and be complete units of meaning. Passive voice is not all that bad. Neither are sentence fragments. (Read the confessions of a former English teacher: How to Write Like a Nonprofit Genius and Motivate People to Join Your Cause)

10. Write at low grade level

Keep your writing at around 6th Grade reading level. It’s just easier to read. Don’t worry about “talking down” to your donors — grade level is about ease of reading, not education. The easier it is to read, the more it will get read — and the more you’ll raise. Check your readability with the grammar-check function in Word or try the excellent Hemingway App.

11. Repeat yourself

Whatever it is that you want people to do, tell them that thing again and again and again. Repeat yourself because you don’t know if they understood or even noticed it the first and second times. Repeat yourself because hardly anyone starts at the beginning of your message and reads every word straight through to the end. Repeat yourself because it works!

12. Annoy yourself

You are not your donor. That’s one of the most important truths you can know, and it has a dramatic side effect: Messages that motivate donors very often will turn you off. It will seem simplistic, emotional, and repetitive. Sometimes it helps to make your own distaste a barometer for effective fundraising.

13. Use a cliché or two

There’s a reason clichés catch on. They express things that people often want to express — in short (and sweet) ways that are easy (as pie) to remember. Fundraising isn’t creative writing class — you aren’t going to lose points for lack of originality. However, you will get extra credit for motivating more people to give.

14. Cut back on adjectives and adverbs

If your nouns and verbs aren’t doing the job, adjectives and adverbs aren’t going to pick up the slack. Well-placed modifiers can add zing. But most of the time, they just make the copy harder to read — and make you sound like a huckster.

15. Avoid huge numbers

Donors don’t want to solve a problem because it’s big. They want to solve it because it’s solvable. Yes, many thousands of children die from hunger-related causes every day, and thousands are diagnosed with terrible diseases, and the glaciers are receding at an alarming rate. It’s mind-boggling. The fact that it’s mind-boggling is exactly why it’s poor fundraising. Give donors the opportunity to make a difference that they can grasp and afford — and then another and another.

16. Free yourself from grammar

Don’t deliberately make bonehead grammar errors. But sometimes getting your grammar precisely correct makes you come across as a schoolmarm, which — unless you’re an actual schoolmarm — is pretty unsympathetic. For instance, correct use of “whom” doesn’t sound natural to most people. Avoid it. If you can’t stomach doing it wrong, revise the sentence so it doesn’t come up. Any correct grammar that people don’t commonly use in speech is a candidate for flouting or revising around.

17. Replace at least one paragraph in your next fundraising project that’s about you

Replace it with a paragraph that’s about your donor. This will make your message a bit more engaging and persuasive. Keep doing this!

18. Limit your paragraphs to 6 lines

Long paragraphs are forbidden territory. Anything more than seven lines is long. Most paragraphs should be one to four lines.

19. Read everything you write out loud

This is one of the best ways to make sure your copy is clear, colloquial, and easy to read. If you stumble while reading, sound pompous or arrogant, or just sound a bit incoherent, your copy needs more work.

20. Cut your first paragraph

No joke. It’s like magic. Most likely, your first paragraph is a warm-up — and your real lead is your second or even third paragraph. Give it a try. It’s one of the quickest and most sure-fire copy revisions I know.

21. Make the message longer

I know you wouldn’t read a long letter. Neither would I. For all we know, nobody reads long letters anymore. But we do know long letters work. Nearly every time I’ve tested, longer letters worked better than shorter ones. (A major exception is when you’re raising funds for a major emergency that’s heavily in the media.) Add more pages to your letter — or let that email be long, and you’ll almost surely get more response. See The Most Controversial Non-Controversy in the Fundraising World

22. Use photos sparingly — but use them

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So choose photos carefully. Too often we use photos that add nothing to the message or even contradict the story we intend to tell. If the photo and the words are in conflict, guess which one will carry more persuasive weight? Make sure the photos you use support the message you want to get across.

23. Underline stuff

Emphasis and variation are great for readability. So underline key points. Also use bold, italics, and other ways to draw the eye. Just don’t overdo it, because too much emphasis is the same as no emphasis at all.

24. Use black serif type over a white background (in print)

Any variation from this — using sans-serif type, colored type, white type over color, even black type over a tint, — will meaningfully degrade the reading comprehension of your donors and hurt response. (It’s worth noting that sans-serif fonts are more readable on screens.)

25. Use 13-point type (or larger) for body copy

Your donors wear bifocals. Small type is hard for them to read. Would you rather be part of their daily struggle to read small type or a strain-free oasis in their day? Which choice do you think will make them more likely to respond?

26. Bypass most of your reviewers

Committees kill fundraising. They systematically drain life and power from anything they touch, while bulking up the message with irrelevancies and worse. It’s not that they’re trying to make it worse — that’s just what committees do. Work without committees, and you’ll see improvements — to your copy and your revenue. See How To Free Your Fundraising From The Destructive Power Of Committees

Get ongoing great advice for powerful fundraising writing by joining The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
How to Write Like a Nonprofit Genius and Motivate People to Join Your Cause

How to Write Like a Nonprofit Genius and Motivate People to Join Your Cause

Once upon a time, I was an English teacher. A guardian and promoter of our written language in its formal academic form.

Please accept my apology for the damage I did during those years.

I worked hard to teach my students specific rules about academic writing. At the time, it seemed like an uphill battle, even a hopeless cause. But some students were paying attention. Who knew?

Some of them are out in the world now, zealously enforcing the rules their college English teachers gave them.

A surprising number of those students who paid attention now work at nonprofit organizations. And they’re repeating the things I used to say.

The problem is most of those rules I taught don’t belong in

fundraising. They are about as relevant and useful outside of academia as knowing how to dance the quadrille would be on a battlefield.

These former students are telling me things like this:

  • I shouldn’t use informal language.
  • My sentence fragments are sloppy.
  • My colloquial grammar an abomination.
  • Less repetitive.
  • More concise.
  • Smoother transitions.
  • Longer paragraphs, each starting with a topic sentence.

They believe my fundraising is defective if I start a sentence with a conjunction, split an infinitive, or use a cliché. Some of them even take their red pens to contractions. (Honest — I never told anyone to avoid contractions!)

Call it karma.

I’m just getting served up what I dished out.

The trouble is, fundraising writing owes little to the rules we learned in English class. It has a specific obligation to motivate donors to give. And that means a different set of rules.

I’m not suggesting we forget everything English teachers said. They taught us how to write with vigor and precision. They showed us how using language helps marshal our thoughts. And they made us believe in revising our work.

But if your job is fundraising, your goal isn’t to please a former instructor. It’s to get people to look past their self-interest, to tap into their inner angels and join you in changing the world. That’s a tall order. It’s much trickier than pulling down an A in English Lit. And it requires a different approach to writing.

Here at Moceanic, I now offer an online masterclass about the unique conventions of fundraising writing. I explore how it differs from other types of writing, and I’ll discuss the techniques that lead to success.

It’s a detailed, hands-on look at how to communicate with donors and others when you’re in a nonprofit and really want to recruit people to change the world with you.

Consider this a sort of atonement for me. If I can help you fight back the “proper” rules I used to promote, I’ll be one step closer to redemption.

And you’ll raise more money.

(This post is a revised version of a chapter in my book, How to Turn Your Words into Money.)


P.S. Click here to find out more about my new online masterclass – Irresistible Communications For Nonprofits. It’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
How to Prevent the Heartbreak of Boring Fundraising

How to Prevent the Heartbreak of Boring Fundraising

If you think you’re boring your audience, go slower not faster.
 – Gustav Mahler (20th century Austrian composer)

When I come across really boring fundraising copy, I think two things:

The writer was rushed. And she doesn’t seem to care. About the subject. About the reader. About raising money.

I understand, though. Writing is often an afterthought. It’s also too often done by a committee of people who don’t know how to write great fundraising copy. And the result is always the same: boring stuff that’s destined for the bin.

But there is hope. You can easily give your fundraising copy a boost. And it starts with slowing down a bit… and asking yourself these 8 questions.

1. Do you know your audience?

“Isn’t that a little rudimentary?” you may ask in return.

Yes. As in basic, elemental, and essential. This is the rock on which you build your donor communications. Not knowing your audience leads to two kinds of writing: stale and generic. Or sometimes, completely off in the wrong direction.

Look, you wouldn’t set out to write a novel about 16th century Polish monarchs without actually knowing anything about them, would you? Nor would you tell a joke meant for your closest friends to your elderly grandma.

You need to be able to answer some basic questions about your audience before you set pen to paper:

  • Who are you talking to?
  • Why are they listening?

Start with the basics, like segmentation, and from there look at more complex options, like donor surveys, empathy mapping, and (gasp!) having one-on-one conversations with your donors.

2. Do you know why you’re writing?

Before I write anything, I take out a big sticky note and fill in the following sentence:

This is why I am writing to you today:

Here’s a hint. If the reason is “I want to tell you about how awesome we are” or “I send you a letter every Christmas” or “I want your money” you’re writing for the wrong reasons.

Here are some better reasons:

… because there is a problem you care deeply about that only you can solve.

… because there is a problem you cared deeply about, and you helped solve it.

Your reason will be specific, and focused on your donor. Which brings me to my next question.

3. Are you following the “rule of one”?

One donor. One speaker. One concept.

You’d never start a letter with “greetings earthlings”, so why would you start it with “dear friends of ABC org”? Get personal – use your donor’s name, and speak directly to them.

This also applies to your signatory or narrator. You’re not ganging up on your donors, you’re having a conversation about something really important and exciting.

And if the reason why you’re writing is to ask for monthly gifts to support a school lunch program, don’t talk about your milk program, and your art program, and your parent support program, and an upcoming gala.

4. Are you checking your weewee?

Whatever you’re writing should focus more on your donor than on your organisation. As Tom Ahern always says, “circle the you’s.” If your writing focuses solely on your organisation and all the great stuff you’re doing, you’re missing an opportunity to make your donor the center of the action.

Find ways to turn your inward-looking language into donor-focused statements. “We” didn’t give 1200 pairs of shoes to homeless youth, you did.

And when you’re feeling stuck, consider inviting your donor in with statements like “you see, Jane” or “you can imagine” or “would you believe?”

5. Are you being conversational?

Or are you stuck in your “Business Communications 101” class?

Formality is boring. A long-winded, ego-driven, jargon-studded brain dump, filled with cold-fish sales-speak that is predictable yet nonsensical because it tries to make too many points and yet somehow manages to make no point at all (much like this sentence) will get you nowhere.

Your writing should be easy to read – not because your donors aren’t intelligent or educated, but because they are people with busy lives. This isn’t the place to show off your vocabulary. It’s a place to passionately make your case in a way your reader can immediately understand.

Check your sentence length. Shorter sentences are easier to digest than long ones. And yes, one-word sentences are okay.

Check your jargon. Are you using insider language and acronyms that your donors won’t understand? How many multi-syllabic words are cluttering your page? Are you writing at a 4th to 6th grade level?

(This article is at a 6.5 grade level… and that drops below 6 if you delete that one long-winded sentence a few paragraphs above!)

6. Where’s your hook?

Hint: it’s in the first line, or it’s not a hook at all.

When your reader opens a letter, they should immediately see their name, and read something that convinces them to keep reading.

This often means deleting the first three paragraphs of your draft. If your letter rambles about autumn leaves and seasons changing before you get to your point – homeless people die without shelter in the winter – you are at risk of losing your reader’s attention.

7. Are you committing crimes against readability?

You could write the most brilliantly compelling, generous, and passionate letter, but if your font is too small, or too fancy, or a weird colour, it won’t get read. If you are using images, ensure they make a meaningful connection to your message. If you’re asking your donor to make a poverty-stricken family’s Christmas brighter, a photo of a happy child surrounded by toys sends a mixed and distracting message.

8. Where’s your heart?

The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action, while reason leads to conclusions.
 – Donald Calne, neurologist

Plain language is important, but so is passion. If your writing comes across as indifferent or cold, why should your donor care?

Your job is to inspire your donor. You want them to deeply feel what you are sharing with them. You need them to see the connection between the things they care about most and what you are asking them to do. By the time your donor is finished reading, they should emphatically cry “YES!” to whatever it is you’re inviting them to be a part of.

These aren’t the only questions to ask yourself when writing, but it’s a great start.

What’s missing? What do you think are some of the most important things to keep in mind when writing irresistible fundraising copy?



Sheena Greer is Canadian. She serves the non-profit at Colludo, where she also blogs.

Please share your experience with boring writing — or better yet, fixing boring writing — by commenting below. We’d love to learn from your experience.

CFRE Points:
Save the Snails Hyper-Personalisation In Action
Direct MailDonor LoveMajor and Mid Value DonorsWriting

Save the Snails Hyper-Personalisation In Action

Hyper-personalisation is a phrase coined by fundraising author Mal Warwick. He used it to describe going well beyond normal personalisation in direct marketing.

It is all about asking donors questions and reflecting their answers back to them.

Using this technique – otherwise known as ‘asking and listening’ – will increase the lifetime value of a supporter’s gift. It will also increase their personal lifetime value. They will feel listened to and valued. Because you, um, listened to them and valued them!

The best way to get their answers is through a Supporter Connection Survey, though you can ask questions in many other communications too.

Let’s say your organisation is Save the Snails (you will see more and more of this charity in our blogs and information!)

In your survey, you’ll ask donors a question about the part of your work they feel most connected to. Something like this:

What part of Save the Snails’ work is most important to you? (choose one)

  • Saving pigmy snails
  • Protecting polar snails
  • Rescuing homing snails
  • Standing up for basking snails
  • I care about all of the endangered snails

In a future fundraising message, you can use this information, like this:

Mrs. Example, I know you’ll be excited to help build our Snail World Super Habitat because, as you told me in a survey a few months ago, you love our work to protect polar snails.

That’s basic hyper-personalisation.

You’ll also have a question that allows donors to tell you how and why they’re connected with you in their own words. So Mrs. Example might say something unique, like:

“My first summer in college, I worked at a snail habitat, and I grew to love the majestic ways of snails and how they teach us to love life.”

As with the answers to the question above, you now have the ability to say back to her what she said to you. But it isn’t so simple. You don’t want to just plug it into the data because it might come out like this:

Mrs. Example, I know you’ll be excited to help build our Snail World Super Habitat because, as you told me in a survey a few months ago, My first summer in college, I worked at a snail habitat, and I grew to love the majestic ways of snails and how they teach us to love life.

Instead, to avoid looking like a database wrote your message, you’d want to revise it a bit to sound human. Like this:

Mrs. Example, I know you’ll be excited to help build our Snail World Super Habitat because, as you told me in a survey a few months ago about your first summer in college, you worked at a snail habitat, and grew to love the majestic ways of snails and how they teach us to love life.

That is true hyper-personalisation.

If I were you, I’d only do this for donors who give or have the ability to give above average donations. About 20% of your donors would be in that gift bracket, but perhaps only 10% of them would ever have written something in their own words. That should be a manageable 2% of donors – at most – that you should hyper-personalise.

It could still be too many to handle, so start with just the top 50 or so – but if you have too many, work at increasing resources so you can handle more.

Sean Triner

P.S. Learn even more about hyper-personalisation. Get access to my Supporter Connection Survey Online Course now when you join The Fundraisingology Lab!

CFRE Points: