Why We All Feel So Bad

It’s Not Just You: Why We All Feel So Bad Right Now — and How to Cope

Have you had any really stupid fights with people in your life lately?

Do you feel like you “run out of gas” much too early in the day?

Have you been making bonehead mistakes that you would normally never make?

Welcome to the club. We’re all doing these things.

And there’s a reason. It’s described in a recent Harvard Business Review article on the psychology of living through a crisis: If You Feel Like You’re Regressing, You’re Not Alone .

According to this helpful article, there’s a predictable trajectory to living in a crisis. It goes like this:

  1. Emergency
  2. Regression
  3. Recovery

Guess where we are at right now.

That’s right, regression. The bad stage.

Here’s how the article puts it:

“In the beginning, when the emergency becomes clear, team energy rises, and performance goes up…. Then the second phase hits: a regression phase, where people get tired, lose their sense of purpose, start fighting about the small stuff, and forget to do basic things ….”

Umm … yes. Have they been spying on me?

You’ve heard of the seven stages of grief. Seven distinct stages, most of them truly unpleasant. But you can’t skip them. There’s no way around — only through.

Living in a crisis is like that. As much as you’d like to hang on to the energy and sense of purpose that marks the first phase, that’s over now.

You are in the regression phase.

It’s miserable. But it’s where we are now.

Knowing it’s not just you really helps. Knowing it’s normal helps too.

But here’s some additional things worth knowing about yourself right now, from an article in Healthline: How ‘Anticipatory Grief’ May Show Up During the COVID-19 Outbreak .

Anticipatory Grief is a sense of loss of normal life, not only now but in the future. Everything is weird right now, and we sense that things might never get really normal ever again.

So we grieve.

It takes shape in things like these:

  • You’re on edge — and it’s not always clear exactly why.
  • You feel angry at things you can’t control.
  • You’re resigned to the worst-case scenario.
  • You find yourself withdrawing or avoiding others.
  • You’re completely exhausted.

Here are some things you can do to cope with all this:

Validate and affirm your feelings. You aren’t messed up for feeling this way. We all feel this way. It’s not something to be ashamed of or to hide.

Get back to basics. Seriously, it’s more important than ever that you eat well, stay hydrated, get the rest you need — all that normal stuff. Don’t let that stuff slide!

Connect with others, even if you don’t want to. It’s tempting to shut down when you’re stressed. (Especially if you’re an introvert.) Don’t! Seek connection. You need it more than ever right now. Remember that friendship is joy multiplied and sorrow divided.

Prioritize rest and relaxation. Anxiety makes you wear yourself down. You have to consciously seek calm. Be dogmatic about getting the rest you need.

Express yourself. Do creative things. Journaling, dancing, music, art — it really helps.

Talk to a professional. It’s okay to get help. It’s not a sign of weakness — it’s a sign of wisdom. Online therapy is a real thing that you can use now!

Remember, you’re not alone.

Remember also that this time will pass. It will not always be this way.

And when it passes, you will be stronger than ever before.

Get all kinds of support by joining The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. It’s a gathering of the kind of smart and loving fundraisers you really want to hang out with — along with all kinds of courses, templates, checklists, and other resources that can help you go to new places as a fundraiser. More information here.

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Donor Psychology

Everything You Need to Know About Fundraising in 3 Words

Here are three words that will transform your fundraising: Belief is enough.

A few weeks ago, we posted an article on this blog titled It Takes 2 Cultures to Make a Great Nonprofit — and That Can Be Hard! It’s about Al Clayton’s brilliant analysis of the main causes of conflict within nonprofits, namely:

For program people, professionalism is defined by rational, unemotional thinking. Emotional thinking can lead to sloppy work and bad decisions.

Fundraising people value emotion. They have to, because fundraising is inherently emotional –you’ve got to meet donors’ emotional needs if you want them to give you money. Without that emotional connection, you’ve got nothing!

One of the people who commented on the post was Wendy Wong of Parkinson Canada. Wendy said several smart things on the topic of this culture clash, including one thing that has really stayed with me. Talking about the way we inspire donors to action with simplicity and emotion, she pointed out the magic that can motivate a donor to donate:

Belief is enough.

Think about that for a moment. That could be the tagline for all great fundraising — Belief is enough.

This is something many fundraisers know, or at least suspect: People give when they believe giving improves the world in some way they care about.

Not when they rationally deduce it.

Not when they arrive at a complete understanding of the programs we want them to support.

Not when their worldview is in sync with the professionals who run those programs.

When they believe.


What is belief? It can be hard to talk about, because it’s so strongly associated with religious faith. But everyone, religious or not, believes things.

Like this: the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is defined by an irrational number called “Pi.” To directly confirm this as a fact, you’d have to calculate forever. (If you’re a certain kind of nerd, you might want to calculate it for a good long time until you were satisfied you’d seen enough.) Most of us accept what our math teachers tell us, so we believe in Pi. Even though we don’t really understand why it’s the way it is.

And that belief in Pi is enough. Enough to pass your math courses. Even close enough to design round things if that’s what you want to do.

Effective fundraising is a bit like that. But harder.

Let’s imagine we’re raising money to support Pi. A lot of organizations would do it like this:

  • Explain why Pi is what it is.
  • Teach donors to calculate Pi for themselves.
  • Try to make them practical experts in Pi.
  • Brag about how good their organization is in the cause of supporting Pi.

They think this is going to work, because they are part of the Program Culture, and their experience (as non-fundraisers) tells them it takes knowledge and facts to effectively build and run their programs. For them, the way to get people to do things correctly is to give them good explanations. This assumption is correct for their programs. But not for fundraising.

If we wanted to succeed at getting people to support Pi, our fundraising would have to tell donors three things:

  1. Pi is real. The easy part, since we’d be talking to people we know are inclined to believe this (assuming we’ve been smart about how we select our audience). But we still need to make it real for them.
  2. Pi is important. Slightly more difficult, as knowing something and caring about it are not the same thing.
  3. You can make a donation to support Pi, and you’ll be very glad you did. Hardest of all. Because you have to move beyond merely thinking and into doing.

Fundraising for Pi and educating people about Pi are two fundamentally different activities.


Please take note: Getting people to believe is not easier than explaining things to them. It’s much more difficult.

We do it because it’s necessary, not because it’s easy.

Anyone can easily learn that belief is enough and explanation is not useful for raising funds. So why is so much fundraising built on the assumption that donors need knowledge and facts in order to donate?

Because so many nonprofit leaders don’t understand fundraising.

Well, it’s worse than that. They don’t understand fundraising to the point that they refuse to read about it, ask questions about it, or even think about it. They just ignore it, and approach the whole fundraising enterprise the way to approach non-fundraising activities. You’d think their rational minds would be screaming NO at the sloppiness of that.

Even worse, any of us can fall to the temptation to explain instead of inspire. I know that because it happens to me. Sometimes while wrestling with a fundraising challenge, I discover a really cool, super-exciting way to explain the cause or the need. It’s so elegant and amazing that I’m blinded to the fact that it’s still an explanation, and not about belief.

So I run with it.

And I fail.

I’m pretty sure it happens to you too!

Highway Sign

That’s why I hope you’ll make belief is enough a sort of motto. A battle cry. A reminder. Because the enemy isn’t just our bosses and others from the Program Culture. It can be inside any of us.

Your job and mine is to spread the word that fundraising is about belief, not explanation.

We do that by learning how that plays out for our specific cause. By getting better and better at doing it. By learning from our mistakes. By finding proof we can share with others.

It’s hard, and for many of us a steep up-hill fight. But keep up the good fight. It is well worth it.

Belief is enough!

Want help making belief is enough a living reality in your heart and mind? Join The Fundraisingology Lab. You’ll get an amazing array of courses, cheat-sheets, templates, and other resources. You’ll also have access to our Facebook community where fellow fundraisers like you are working to make belief is enough the center of their fundraising.

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The Miracle of Fundraising and How It Changes Everyone’s Life

I was standing in the dining room one evening when my cousin called.

Bad news. His mother, my Aunt Ginny, was dead. It was completely unexpected.

Nothing either of us could say would matter or even make sense, so he gave me the details. Aunt Ginny was in her 70s — healthy, active, and busy. The way you want to be at that age. Then she had a bad reaction to some medication. When it happens to someone you don’t know, you say, “It was just one of those things.” When it’s someone close, you can’t say anything.

I listened almost hungrily, as we do at times like that. Anxious to know more, yet not wanting to hear it.

It was one of those this-can’t-be-happening moments that happen more and more often as we get older.

I leaned against the table, felt the cool wood under my hand, the solidity of the floor under my feet. Around me were the four walls and the furniture I live with every day — so large and real compared to the small, staticky voice of my cousin coming through the phone.

Suddenly life came into sharp focus, as if something had fallen away from my eyes. I could see with terrible clarity how these solid things around me were like breeze-tossed mist compared to the greater reality of the people in my life: the family, friends and companions who have shaped me. The friendly guy across the street whose name I can’t remember. The lady who makes my tall soy mocha every morning and says, “Happy Monday,” even on Tuesday.

And Aunt Ginny. She and my mother were close, so she knew me from the day I was born, and the two families spent a lot of time together, grew up together. She helped me see that whatever you do, you can, you must do it with joy and passion. Memory everlasting.

These people are the real floor we stand on, the walls that shelter us, the furniture where we rest.

Yet they can be suddenly and irretrievably gone.

And when they go, it’s as if a section of the floor has fallen away, leaving a void where we used to stand. We reroute our lives around the hole, and we gradually get used to it. Until death or some other change silently blasts another gap.

I had to let my cousin go. He had a few more calls to make. I stood there and stared into the new void — not the first I’ve faced. And it won’t be my last.

We live in two overlapping worlds. One of them — the world of physical things — feels more real. It gets most of our attention, most of the time. Buildings, cars, tools, the ground under our feet.

There’s another world inhabiting the same space — the world of people and connections and memory and love. It has more weight on our lives, more influence on who we are and what we are becoming.

The people around us give us nearly all our meaning, understanding, and joy. When they’re with us. And even after they’re gone.

Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky said, “There is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome … than some good memory … If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in his heart, even that may sometime be the means of his salvation.”

In other words, Your stuff may be cool, but it’s not going to save you.

Why am I telling you this?

Because fundraising is one of the places where the two worlds merge into one. Every one of us involved in fundraising straddles those two worlds.

Our work seems to consist of paper, ink, postal regulations, websites, spreadsheets, meetings …

But more than that, fundraising is also built from a network of human contact, of people surviving and becoming, of vexing problems, and of life-or-death struggles. It’s real life playing out in the deepest sense.

The work we do as fundraisers starts with the lives we touch through the causes we support. But maybe more immediately, it’s a web that connects to the donors we call on to make a difference with us. Donors who, like us, are walking between the increasing number of floorless sections of their lives. Sometimes wondering how they can go on, but more often with hearts overflowing with love, yearning to make things right, hoping they can make the world — both worlds — a little better.

Like all of us, our donors are sleepwalking through the visible solid world, but now and then waking into the real one. Making a charitable gift is one of those awake moments that reminds you where you are — and assures you that you can go on.

That’s why working in fundraising is such a privilege and a responsibility. Every day we participate in the transformation and enlightenment of donors. We’re like midwives at their repeated rebirths. If we could see it for what it is, we’d be overcome by the wonder.

But most of the time we can’t see the reality, so we act like all we’re doing is just a form of marketing, not meaningfully different from persuading strangers to choose one brand of shampoo over another.

What’s the practical application of this for you and me? Nothing.

And yet everything.

Whether you’re aware of the two-world quality of your work or not — even if you believe there’s only one world — you still have to work hard, pay attention, sweat the details, and keep up with changing demographics and technology.

And when you’re fully awake to the numinous quality of the work, fundraising is still a pain in the butt. You don’t have the staff and resources you need. Things go stupidly wrong. Your boss, your board, your client, your consultants don’t get it or get in the way. Great ideas somehow don’t pan out. Those things happen.

And that’s okay. Because even when it’s rough, it’s real. You still help donors stay on their feet, and you still make the world a better place. How many professions do that?

So do your work with passion and commitment and even reverence — because you are on holy ground, even when it doesn’t seem that way. Especially when it doesn’t seem that way.

And never forget that your work can’t be measured only in cost and revenue. Every day it measures out love, memory, comfort, and the strength to go on.

Learn more about the ways we participate in the miracle of fundraising by taking the best-selling Moceanic online course, Irresistible Communications for Great Nonprofits. It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Check it out.

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Pop Art Sing

5 Professional Tips for Making Your Fundraising Stories Sing

Jeff Brooks joins long-time friend and colleague, Kristine Poggioli to talk about writing great stories for fundraising — for direct mail, email, or any other medium.

Kristine’s tips for fundraising stories that really do the job:

  1. Grab the reader’s attention with a powerful hook.
  2. Know what the donor cares about and focus on that.
  3. It’s never the “victim’s” fault (even when it seems to be).
  4. Focus on headlines, outer envelope teasers, subject lines, etc.
  5. Make everything about the donor!

Put these ideas to work in your stories, and you will raise more money!

Find out more about Kristine Poggioli at her website.

Want to learn how to tell great stories and take your fundraising to new heights? Then you’ll want to find out more about my Blueprint for Donor-Focused, High-Revenue Fundraising Storytelling Course. You can access it when you join The Fundraisingology Lab.

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The Uncomfortable Blessing of Fundraising

I was in Uganda, gathering stories on behalf of a client. At that time, Uganda was Ground Zero of the AIDS epidemic. The disease had devastated parts of the country, killing nearly all adults under 60. The tranquil beauty of the countryside gave the impression of the richness of life. But the reality was the country was as empty and broken as if there’d been a nuclear holocaust.

I was visiting some of the hardest-hit communities. We saw no adult men or women, other than white-haired elderly ones — but there were children everywhere.

Most of my interviews were with older women. They’d ended up caring for their grandchildren after their own children died of AIDS. They typically had a dozen or more grandchildren in their care, all orphans, all with no source of care but grandma — who struggled to feed them all.

In one especially devastated community, an old woman approached me and asked if I was a priest. I told her I was not.

“So minister,” she said, then hurried away. I learned later that the community experience was that the only white people who visited them were clergy. And if I wasn’t a priest, I must be the next best thing, a minister.

A few minutes later, the old woman returned. She was holding a baby. She motioned me to follow her. We walked a few yards, pushing through a thick tropical forest until we emerged in a small clearing. The ground was a square of black soil, raked into steep furrows.

“Reverend bless,” the old woman said, motioning at the ground.

She wanted me to bless the garden plot. To invoke God’s power on the urgently needed crop.

And then, before I could even start to wonder how you bless a garden, she thrust the baby into my arms. “Bless baby,” she said.

I stood there at the edge of the garden plot, sleeping baby in my arms, and wondered what to do. I felt profoundly uncomfortable, terribly inadequate; I wanted to beg off, to explain how I was the wrong guy, to get away.

Fortunately, an insight came to me: I had no choice but to go through with the blessing they sought. I needed to figure it out and just get on with it.

My discomfort was nothing compared to their need for blessings. If I’d refused, it would have been an awkward extrication from an awkward situation — to me. To them, it would have been a crushing disappointment with potentially fatal repercussions. What sort of clergyman would do that to them? Or, as I asked myself, what sort of human being would do that to them?

I learned that day that sometimes the role is bigger than the person playing it. That sometimes doing the necessary thing can feel uncomfortable — but that is no reason back out.

This issue comes up in my work quite often in the form of a nonprofit leader who balks at signing a fundraising message he or she doesn’t like.

The less experienced ones say, “This is just dumb. It’ll never work. I know that because I wouldn’t respond to it.”

The more experienced ones say, “I realize this is how you motivate donors to give. But I don’t talk this way! It makes me uncomfortable.”

The true leaders (experienced or not) say, “I don’t understand this, but I’m willing to sign if that’s what it takes to get people to fund our cause.”

The real leaders get it — a lot quicker than I did: sometimes you have to fake it. You have to bless the baby and the garden. This may not be why you showed up to do the job, and you may feel unequipped to do it — but a role has been given to you, and you need to take it.

I don’t know if my blessings in Uganda had any effect on the garden. Or the baby. No doubt I got it wrong, but to this day I cherish the memory. It was one of those rare moments when the divine gets mixed up in normal life and leaves you changed. I often think about that baby. He’d be a young man by now. I hope he’s having a good, productive, joyful life.

Life is that way. There are times you have to push aside your sense of who you are and what you do in order to perform the role that you’ve been placed in.

So play the role; sign the letter. That’s how you participate and the strange mechanisms of the world. It’s how you transform the world around you. And yourself.

In my Storytelling Masterclass, we explore some of the many layers involved in getting a transforming story from the real world into our donors’ heart and minds. Don’t miss this chance to dig deep into the most challenging facet of fundraising! It’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

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You Have No Dramatic Stories to Tell? You’re Looking at it Wrong!

We don’t have any dramatic stories to tell! How can we tell great stories?

We don’t work with babies or puppies! We have no way to be emotional.

Have you heard or said things like this?

It’s flat-out wrong.

If you have no drama or emotion to share with donors, it’s because you’re making one (or both) of these mistakes:

1. You’re looking at processes, not outcomes

Let’s say your organization works to advocate for low-income housing in your community. What you do: Make phone calls. Write emails. Publish studies. Attend meetings.

That may be an accurate description of your daily activities and processes. It’s not the end-product. It’s not why donors give.

There’s no drama!

The process exists so you can attain the outcome, which is people who might have been homeless having homes. That’s dramatic. That’s why donors donate!

That’s the story you need to tell!

If you think the fact that your donors are giving unrestricted gifts that largely fund overhead means you can’t talk about the outcomes of your programs, you aren’t thinking clearly! Your donors need — and deserve — to hear the stories of your outcomes. They don’t care about your processes, nor should they.

2. You assume life vs. death is the only drama that people care about

Relatively few nonprofits can legitimately claim that their work directly saves lives. The rest of us participate in other kinds of drama.

Arts and cultural organizations: Nobody is going to die if the show doesn’t go on. But something important will be lost; something that deeply affects the hearts, souls, and minds, culture, and legacy of your community. Yes, it really matters. It matters a lot!

Education: People will survive without what you teach. But what is the cost to them and to society if they don’t learn it?

A lot of organizations that help people in need really don’t save lives. They make lives better. But the difference may be dramatic and heart-rending.

Have faith in the importance and drama of your cause.

Find the drama. It’s there if you look! And tell that story.

Then donors will flock to your side.

Want to learn the ins and outs of telling the right stories in the right way? Sign up here for The Fundraisingology Lab and get instant access Jeff’s masterclass: Your Blueprint for Donor-Focused, High-Revenue Fundraising Storytelling.

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Pop Art Father and Son e1518471523916

How Dad’s Last Story Changed My Life

Like many people, I spent much of my life believing my father was immortal. Then he told me a story that changed that.

When dad was diagnosed with cancer, I knew he was going to beat it. The whole family did. I was worried, of course, and I learned enough about his cancer to realize we couldn’t take it lightly. But my heart and most of my mind were confident he’d overcome it. He was in his 60s. I was in my 40s.

For two years it went well. He had a few rounds of chemo that shrank the tumors and kept him strong and healthy. He continued working as a math professor. He talked about the future. There were places he wanted to travel, and he looked forward to his grandchildren’s milestones. He bought a new car.

Then the cancer roared up like a flame with new fuel. Dad went through an especially aggressive regime of chemotherapy. It left him on his back, gasping and bleeding from his mouth. But it didn’t slow the cancer. Still, we believed he would overcome.

One night, my family went to my parents’ house for dinner after Dad had recovered from that chemo. He looked well, almost back to normal. My faith in a positive outcome grew as we ate and talked.

Then after dinner, Dad cornered me in the kitchen. Nobody else was around. He grabbed me by both shoulders. That wasn’t like him at all. His hands trembled.

“I’m worried about Mom,” he said, his eyes drilling into me. “She really can’t take care of herself. Last night her sleeve caught fire at the stove. I was there, so she wasn’t hurt. But you know how she is. . . .”

He didn’t finish the thought. He let it play out in my imagination. We faced each other in silence for probably a minute.

My mother had a chronic illness. All her life she had an impulsive approach that mostly served her well. But it was becoming dangerous. Dad had been quietly taking on the increasing burden of her care: driving her to appointments, making sure she took her medications, keeping her from falling, from getting lost, from setting herself afire.

It suddenly hit me—hit me almost with physical force—that my optimistic belief about his cancer was out of step with reality. At that instant, I realized that the cancer might take him, and leave my mother to my care.

That was the moment my father became mortal.

All he’d done was paint a quick verbal sketch: my mother, standing at the stove, flames licking up her sleeve, unaware as it climbed her arm. It was as vivid as a movie.

Until then, I’d understood the risk with my head but hadn’t felt it in my gut, or taken it seriously enough to prepare for a future without him. Now I was charged with energy to respond.

That’s the power of story. It can flip the switch in our heads from a vague fact to an unavoidable reality.

My father’s story—the last story he ever told me—was barely a story at all. But it was utterly vivid and heavy with urgency. I began to prepare for life without my father. He died a month later, and I became my mother’s caregiver.

I hope I never tell a story that hurts a donor as much as that story stung. But I do hope to tell stories that deliver as much motivating truth.

My experience is in no way unusual. We all live parts of our lives hiding behind a curtain. Maybe it’s the health of a loved one. Or our own financial situation. Or the appalling fact that children are going hungry. Or that diseases like cancer carry off people far too soon.

We know the facts. We can calculate the statistics. But we know them with our heads, not our hearts. That’s how your cause is for most donors. They’ve been exposed to the facts, probably for decades. You can shovel more and more facts about your issue at them, but you won’t change a thing in their brains, their will, or their muscle to pick up a pen and write a check.

Not until you lift the curtain by telling a story. Until then, they won’t give.

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

For more tips like this on how to use storytelling to connect with your donors, join Jeff on his storytelling course, Your Blueprint for Donor-Focused, High-Revenue Fundraising Storytelling that is available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
Pop Art Baseball player with bat pop art style vector illustration
Donor Love

Why It’s Important to Love Fundraising

Like many Americans, I have an inexplicable love for baseball.

One of my favorite things about baseball is how the players watch the game. When they aren’t on the field, they line up along the fence between the dugout and the field. They lean over it like a row of 10-year-old boys, chewing gum, even elbowing each other like happy kids at a game.

I get a “morning in America” feeling when I see that: The game proceeds at its stately pace, the grass is green, the hot dogs savory, and the players are aligned with their fans, enjoying the game with the same sense of joy.

All is well.

But my outlook darkens when I notice the players who aren’t watching. There are always a few of them — usually the overpaid, underperforming superstars who seem to exist to drain the teams’ budgets and make the fans stop caring.

Those guys sit glumly on the bench, enduring the game, clearly signaling that they’d rather be doing something else. You can see their weariness: After all, baseball season has 162 games, plus 30-some spring training games, plus (if they’re lucky) playoff games.

But come on! This is Big League Baseball! They’re living the dream. And they make a ton of money doing it.

If a few disengaged players are bad, imagine a whole team of them: players who find baseball an embarrassing exercise they only do so they can make their inflated salaries. They sit around and complain: about the arbitrary rules of the game and the oafish fans who put them through the whole degrading spectacle. Dreaming of a better fans.

Those teams would always lose, no matter how talented the players. Baseball itself would disappear like a guttering candle flame if teams were like that.

Here’s why I’m telling you this: Baseball isn’t the only profession that harbors people who hate their work. I suppose you meet them everywhere, but I’m sad to say I see them all the time in fundraising.

You’ve met them, too — those unhappy, wish-there-were-another-way fundraisers who feel victimized by the demands of fundraising. They’re always looking for better (usually younger) donors. They waste a lot of time and energy not raising funds because they constantly walk away from the things that work in order to flirt with anything that doesn’t seem to them like fundraising. They’re easily taken in by weasels and flim-flam artists.

Fortunately, as in baseball, there aren’t that many of them. There are also the thrilled-to-be-here, aligned-with-donors type who love the beauty of the fundraising house and are nerdily thrilled about motivating people to give.

I’m talking about you, smart fundraiser and reader of the Moceanic Blog!

They (you) make the fundraising world go ’round.

Fundraisers who love fundraising raise dramatically more money than those who wish they could find another way. Aligned fundraisers love asking for money. They know donors love giving and are enriched by the transaction. They’re excited about direct mail (and other old-line media) because they see the evidence every day that those high-touch connections touch donors’ hearts and stir them to action.

They aren’t looking for a magical formula or some amazing new social marketing phenomenon to rescue them from the day-to-day work of raising funds. They understand: they’re already tapping into the magic.

Those Shiny New Objects and Next Big Things that sweep through our profession with a lot of sound and fury but nothing to do with donors don’t interest donor-aligned fundraisers. They want real innovations that make giving easier and more compelling for donors.

When your fundraising team is full of people who love fundraising, you are in good shape. You get more good ideas and fewer bad ones. The joy spreads around the team and out to donors, who respond more and feel more connected. It’s like the difference between an army that knows it’s fighting for a just cause and one that’s been force-marched to the battle for the benefit of its masters.

If you love fundraising, you’re already on your way to being brilliant.

And that’s why I think you’re a member of the Moceanic “tribe” of smart, fact-based, donor-aligned fundraisers. And that’s why we hope to see you at one of our great online courses for fundraisers … or, even better, participating in our Coaching+ … maybe the best way there is for smart fundraisers to get even smarter and put proven innovations to work in your fundraising program.

If you think fundraising is a necessary evil, you’re in deep trouble.

No organization should tolerate anti-fundraising fundraisers. They are corrosive, and they hurt the cause. The biggest favor you can do for them is let them go—free them from fundraising so they can find something that nourishes them. And free your organization from their negative influence.

Now excuse me while I enjoy the company of some fundraisers who love fundraising!

Get practical answers for your fundraising challenges by scheduling a free 25-minute call with one of our Fundraisingologists. They will give you great free advice, and help you identify which Coaching+ program might be right for you. Click here to book your call.

CFRE Points:
Made to stick
Donor LoveBrandingDonor PsychologyStorytelling

Six Steps to Make Your Communications Sticky

How do you make sure that everything you write grabs the reader’s attention, engages them and makes something happen?

After all, there is no point writing stuff that doesn’t have the desired outcome.

Even if that outcome is to help a donor appreciate the love they spread through their gift. The lives they changed. The lives they could change.

Let me point you to a great resource: Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. It is one of the best fundraising books ever – and it is not about fundraising.

In it, they talk about the Darth Vader Toothbrush. It is worth reading the book just for that. I am not going to tell you more on that, but you do need to know. It is a quickish read, and not full of marketing jargon or nonsense.

For ‘sticky’ communications the book gives us an amazingly apt acronym: SUCCES. Here it is…

  • Simple: find the core of any idea. You need to prioritize your ideas. Providing ten arguments to the public is doomed to fail because people will not be able to remember them all. Be a master of leaving things out and stick to the core of your fundraising message.
  • Unexpected: grab people’s attention by surprising them. You need to violate people’s expectations with counterintuitive surprise. Generate interest and curiosity.
  • Concrete: make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later. Explain in terms of human actions and use sensory information. Use concrete images and proverbs.
  • Credible: give an idea believability. Look for ways to help people test your ideas for themselves.
  • Emotional: help people see the importance of an idea. Let people feel something. Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region.
  • Stories: empower people to use an idea through narrative. Tell stories. Hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.

Made to Stick is highly recommended reading for smart fundraisers. It will boost your ability to write great marketing and fundraising copy.

It’s a quick read too!


Want to discover more ways to make your nonprofit communications sticky? Join The Fundraisingology Lab and get instant access to the Irresistible Communications for Great Nonprofits course! You’ll see great results immediately.

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.

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