The single best — and easiest — way to improve your fundraising

If you’re heading up a nonprofit (or part of the team that does), one of the best things you can do for your fundraising is to come to terms with a hard truth: You are not your donors.

But don’t feel bad. Most corporate executives have to come to terms with the fact that they’re not their customers and have to keep that in mind when they’re deciding on their advertising. Anyway, back to donors.

For one thing, your donors are probably much older than you are. Which creates a completely different frame of reference about what’s good and what isn’t when it comes to copy and design.

Not only that, what you want to see in your fundraising appeals probably isn’t what’s going to motivate your donors. Your perspective is from within the organization. You’re “in the bubble.” Your donors aren’t.

Take the photos in your appeals. Those photos of happy, smiling people in your appeals that you believe show your nonprofit doing a good job – those really don’t work as hard as you might think to raise money. Maybe you think that showing photos of a sad child or a hungry adult will cast your nonprofit in a negative light, as if you’re not pursuing your mission. But your donor’s perspective is different. Your donors want to make a difference with their gift. When they see those “negative” photos, they see need. They see a problem to be solved. They see something they can do to change the world, even if only a little bit. So if you want to motivate donors to give, they should be seeing photos in your appeals showing need, not photos of success.

Same thing for the stories you use in appeals. The stories with a positive ending that you believe show your organization doing good work – those shouldn’t be in your appeals. (They should be in your newsletters, but that’s another discussion.) Donors have to read stories of need if they’re going to give.

The same applies to copywriting. You might think that fundraising copy is too corny, too emotional, too repetitive, too plain and simple. But that’s not how most donors see it. The fact is that donors respond best to copywriting that’s emotional and direct – not copywriting that’s formal, dry, or academic. Plain talk is best.

Or let’s say you can’t stand sentences that begin with “and” or “but.” Or sentence fragments. Or contractions like “won’t” or “can’t.” That’s fine, but imposing personal preferences like these onto appeals means you’re not going to create the kind of friendly, approachable tone in copy that’s likely to draw donors in and convince them to give.

When it comes time to create or review fundraising appeals, it’s important to view your own preferences with some healthy skepticism. You can’t just go by what you like or don’t like or what you think that you would or wouldn’t respond to in an appeal. Because your fundraising isn’t about you.

Which means that the decisions about what does or doesn’t go into an appeal should be based on your donors. It’s all about them, all about their values, all about their heart for the cause, and all about giving, because that’s what draws donors closer to the nonprofit – and that’s what raises more money.


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