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Downes Murray International News

Five copy resolutions for the New Year

With the New Year already in full swing, Deborah Block and Paul Karps offer you their New Year’s resolutions when it comes to writing fundraising copy.
Granted, this is hardly an exclusive list. We could literally go on and on. (And maybe that should be Resolution Number 1: Don’t go on and on!) So we’ll try to keep this year’s list to a minimum. After all, there’s always next year.
Anyway, in no particular order, here goes:

1. It’s OK to wear your heart on your sleeve

Showing emotion in your copy is a good thing. Not being afraid to get personal is even better. In other words, giving your signer the chance to sound like a real, unique individual – writing to another real, unique individual – will only serve to make your copy warmer and more persuasive. Let’s say, for example, you’re writing for a children’s hospital. Including a reference to how the signer is a mother of two – or grandfather of four – gives you the opportunity to establish a closer bond with the reader, thereby increasing the case for giving. But even if you don’t have that kind of detail available, keep your copy warm and friendly, whatever the actual writing style of the signer may be.

2. Don’t assume donors know who you are

You may live and breathe the mission of the organisation you write for. But your donors may actually be thinking about other stuff.

So even though you may be sick and tired of that one story you told in your newsletter six months ago – and that’s been on your Web site for four months – your donors probably won’t remember it or may not have even seen it.

3. Write the copy from the reader’s perspective

This one’s certainly an oldie-but-goodie . . . and definitely worth repeating. In a nutshell, it’s not all about ‘you’, the non-profit.

Instead, copy should revolve around the wants, needs, and interests of the reader. That’s why ‘you’ – aka the reader – is considered the most important word in fundraising.

Yet as much as this seems so obvious to most of us, we recently received a four-page acquisition letter from a local non-profit . . . in which the very first ‘you’ was toward the end of page four when the non-profit finally got around to asking for money. Just inexcusable. But it happens – time and again.

4. Don’t think email copy should be any less compelling than direct mail

One misconception we sense is that many people feel email copy needs to be short and sweet. Hey, the thinking goes, these email types have such short attention spans that we can only hold on to them for a brief moment.

So keep appeal copy to a bare minimum. Of course, if you take this advice, you’re just as likely to suck all the air out of the appeal – making the case for giving that much less compelling.

Indeed, could this be a factor in the finding that direct mail continues to outperform email?

On the other hand, some of the most effective fundraising emails we tend to receive are longer in length, quite comparable to the length of direct mail appeals.

5. Target your copy to the right audience

In writing fundraising copy, one size does not fit all. If you’re writing to donors, you need to thank them. If they’re lapsed, thank them for their past generosity and ask them to reaffirm their support. If they’re high-dollar donors, step up the praise.

If they’ve given to a capital campaign or other specific effort, single them out. And if they’ve never given to you before, make that abundantly clear, as well.

More and more these days, we seem to be writing multiple copy platforms – targeted to these kinds of different audiences – that can then be lasered on page one.

Page two is written in such a way that it applies to everyone equally. It can then be preprinted, probably saving you money in production.

That’s it for this year. Five’s a nice round number, don’t you think? At least that’s what our friend Fibonacci says!

Editor’s note

Here, in brief, are my top five copy resolutions for the year:

  1. Convince more people that ‘copy by committee’ = ‘too many cooks spoil the broth!’ Having a direct mail piece approved by more than one – or two people at the most – is likely to ruin the copy all together.
  2. It’s OK to write in conversational English. In fact – it works! So please feel free to use contractions (it’s, I’m, that’s) and avoid jargon. It’s even acceptable to start a sentence with ‘but’, ‘because’ and ‘so’. And even ‘and’.
  3. The two most important words in fundraising copy are ‘You’ and ‘I’. Not ‘give money’.
  4. Short words, short sentences and paragraphs of varying lengths will get copy read. Use underlining for emphasis and remember to indent paragraphs.
  5. Ask early and ask often. Ask for the right amount based on what donors give on average – because more often than not, you’ll get what you ask for.

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