Posts Tagged ‘Author newsletters’

Don’t “blandify” your message, be bold

I read a blog post today called “Why Steve Jobs and I Hate Charity” by one of our featured authors, Joe Waters, who has generated a lot of mixed responses with this post, some even angry. I can’t help but be happy for him. Call me crazy, but this month I have author Tom Ahern backing me up on this one. We’re currently featuring his new book, How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money (Emerson & Church Publishing, 2011) at CausePlanet.

“Content that interests your reader is mandatory,” says Ahern. He says we should ask if our message is bold and passionate. (Not bland, predictable or boring.) I would say Joe Water’s post meets these requirements on all counts.

One of Tom Ahern’s chapters in particular had me jumping out of my seat because it’s so rarely discussed, much less overcome in the workplace. The chapter is called “On the delicate subject of committee and board approvals.” Tom’s remarks in this chapter further support the priority we must all put on preserving communications that are bold, controversial and surprising. Tom argues that your board and committee’s instincts and good intentions aren’t enough. Effective communications are, in Ahern’s opinion, 99 percent science and one percent art. You are a professional. You’ve done the research and understand what makes communications effective. Committees tend to “blandify” the piece and scrub away the bold, the controversial and the crazy surprises you’ve worked hard to incorporate into your piece, says Ahern.

I was so enthusiastic about this opinion after having survived numerous direct mail pieces written by committee over the years that I asked more about the subject in our interview and here’s what Tom had to say:

CausePlanet: We love chapter eight about how to mitigate the influence of committee or board approval on the written appeal. How liberating! Would you say the same rules apply for management?

Tom Ahern: There are two kinds of bosses: those who trust their employees and those who don’t. The trusting boss says to the fundraiser, “Look, this is your area of expertise. And it’s your neck on the line. Do what you think is best.” If that’s not your kind of boss, start looking for a new job.

Tom explains his book that there are seven ways you can guarantee poor results. I would argue that number seven needs to added as I’ve done below. Then again, he did dedicate an entire chapter to the subject.

  1. You don’t target your audience narrowly enough: You must sharpen your message by grouping your constituency by donors (at least two gifts), prospects (shown some interest or lapsed donors) and suspects (might yield a gift but show no proof yet of interest). The second layer of grouping is segmentation by demographics (age, sex, income, educational level, number of children or zip code) and psychographics or “lifestyle traits” (values, beliefs, attitudes and interests).
  2. You don’t know what your BIG message is: Choose one message for each target audience and beat that message to death for a few years. That’s how you get results, says Ahern.
  3. You don’t repeat your messages often enough: Marketers cite the “rule of seven,” which means you must bring the same message to a target audience at least seven times in an 18-month period in order for that message to penetrate.
  4. You don’t have real goals: Every goal should be concrete, measurable, achievable and worth doing.
  5. You think “bland” is a safe choice: You have to be BOLD to capture a person’s attention in today’s hyperactive messaging environment. Bold always outsells bland.
  6. You have unreasonable expectations: You hope for blockbusters. Instead, have patience with the slow trickle of interest. It will soon amount to a river of support, says Ahern.
  7. You use a committee and board approval process: Your board or committee’s instincts and good intentions aren’t enough. Effective fundraising communications are, in Ahern’s opinion, 99 percent science and one percent art. Professionals on staff have done the research and understand what makes a communications piece effective. Committees tend to feed each other’s doubts; they “blandify” the piece and scrub away the bold, the controversial and the crazy surprises you’ve worked hard to incorporate. (See # 5.)

Thanks, Joe, for the great post and keep your readers guessing. You have us in your court. Visit www.SelfishGiving.com.

Leave a reply

Write fundraising materials that raise more money

Tom Ahern, one of our top authorities on nonprofit communications in North America, has written a book for those of us who are not full-time professional writers: How to Write Fundraising Materials that Raise More Money. Critically important advice, game-changing strategies and valuable trade secrets are packaged in this light and breezy format of short chapters containing straight talk. Ahern easily traverses psychographics, demographics, structural tips, and building a case, so you can feel as if the mountain of communications you face is a task worth climbing. We kick off our feature with Tom’s advice on what belongs in the communications. Content that interests your reader is mandatory. How do you interest people?
Here’s a checklist of what Ahern considers when he writes for donors or prospects:

Have I said what amazing things the organization did or would do with their gifts?

Did I mention worthwhile results? Real accomplishments?

Did I link these accomplishments back to charitable giving?

Did I celebrate the donor as the hero?

Did I talk about the organization’s cost efficiency?

Is it bold, passionate? (Not bland, predictable or boring?)

Is the tone conversational?

Is the publication as a whole a quick read using short sentences and action verbs?

Have I eliminated jargon?

Am I using statistical evidence like a spear to make a single important point?

Can I use a testimonial anywhere to inspire the faithful and calm the doubters?

Have I made at least one offer they can respond to?

The secret to the response: the offer is king, says Ahern. The richer you make the offer, the better the response. For example, people can’t resist matching gift campaigns. Don’t bury the offer at the end of your copy—make it bold and not easy to miss.

For more information about Tom Ahern’s book and more expert advice, visit www.aherncomm.com.

Leave a reply

Welcome! Please provide your log-in information below.
Forget your password?
Enter your email or user name and your log-in information will be sent to the email on file.