Are your fundraising appeals repetitive? Good

Effective copywriting for fundraising is weird. It has a lot of characteristics that seem to be the opposite of what’s right. One of these is repetition.

Good copy for an appeal tends to repeat some things over and over. To the uninitiated, this seems wrong.

In our English composition classes in school, we’re taught to make a point and then move on, continuing to make successive points until the conclusion. That’s basic expository writing – which is nothing like copy for an appeal.

That’s because most donors probably won’t read an appeal letter from beginning to end. They tend to skip around. So we repeat key things in order to catch the reader’s attention at various points in the appeal. But there’s another reason to use repetition, and it’s based on science.

In this study, the researchers wanted to test the assumptions people make about what they read and hear. So, they designed a test in which subjects were given sets of statements to review. Some of the statements were true, some were false, and some were repeated. The statements were generally expressions of fact (or what appeared to be fact), like “Zachary Taylor was the first president to die in office.”

The upshot is that the repeated statements were more likely to be judged as true, compared with similar statements that were not repeated. So, if you saw the statement, “Zachary Taylor was the first president to die in office” again and again, you’d tend to think it was true, even without looking it up. (It’s not true, by the way. William Henry Harrison was the first.)

Think about what this means for fundraising copy. First, though, a caveat: of course we wouldn’t repeat a false statement in order to make it seem true to donors. That would be unethical.

But if we want to enhance the believability of a true statement, then repetition is one way to do it – and a very effective way. It could be a statement like, “Your gift will transform lives.” Naturally we’d want donors to believe that true statement.

Or maybe it’s a statement that’s true but strains credulity a bit, like, “Your gift will multiply 1,000 times in impact.” In order for an offer like that to be effective, it would have to be believable for donors. Repetition would be one way to accomplish that.

There are lots of ways to use repetition in appeals. And it’s good to. Repetition is there for a reason. Its use in appeals is purposeful and strategic. Don’t avoid it. Embrace it for better results.

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