Jeff Brooks’ How to Turn Your Words Into Money is a nonprofit writer’s new ally with the latest guidelines for creating the most effective messages to persuade your reader.
Brooks explains what fundraising writing is not and what it should be. He does so in a way that tells you exactly what to avoid and what to try in your next attempt to sway your audience.
A fair amount is appropriately dedicated to the many ways you can create a compelling story even when you’re stumped. How to Turn concludes with what every fundraising writer needs: universal assumptions we know about donors and some helpful advice to keep you inspired.
Brooks asserts that fundraising writing is different than any other writing. Many of its most successful examples defy English conventions and are counterintuitive.
Brooks begins his book with what fundraising writing is not and then describes what it should be.
We’ve excerpted his “Don’t” list here for you.
Educating is not fundraising:
Educating donors about your cause does not motivate them to give. Appealing to their passions and telling them about a person who is suffering motivates them to give. After they give, they are then willing to learn more about your cause. For example, educating donors about statistics on homelessness does not increase giving. Telling a person’s homeless story does motivate them more often. People are motivated by their emotions and interests, not facts.
Bragging is not fundraising:
Talking only about your impressive self does not work in any situation. Instead, “only share excellent qualities that are relevant to donors.” Don’t talk about your stellar processes, fame or awards you’ve won. Donors want to contribute to results and be part of your excellence. Instead of saying what your organization has done, attribute your success to your donors’ generosity:
“We’ll stretch every dollar you give so you help the greatest number of people in the most life-transforming way.” Share these relevant facts with your donors: a purpose statement that shows you share your donors’ values, watchdog approvals or ratings, and quotations from authorities or celebrities that vouch for you.
Journalism is not fundraising:
If you focus on the five Ws (Who, What, Where, When and Why), you will miss the word “you,” or the donor. Instead of just telling a homeless person’s story, relate it to the donor: “Frank is a lot like you. He loves his kids, and like you, he’d do almost anything to make them happy. But last Christmas, Frank had to make a bigger sacrifice than most parents. …” (He spent his last few dollars on gifts for his daughters he hadn’t seen in more than two years and became homeless.)
Furthermore, as a fundraiser, you need to be biased, not objective, about your cause. Therefore, focus on the conflict or what needs to change, show a problem, unveil the enemy, and recruit the reader by appealing to his values and challenging him to take action.
Humor doesn’t work well in fundraising:
For several reasons, stay away from humor: 1) It doesn’t translate across cultures or different age groups. 2) Insider jokes about your organization do not work with donors who are outsiders. 3) Humor makes fun of something or someone, which does not inspire empathy, kindness or a willingness to give.
We asked Books about testing his messaging in our Page to Practice author interview:
CausePlanet: How often do you test your fundraising messages? Do you see donor’s preferences shifting very often?
Jeff Brooks: You should test all the time–if your quantities are big enough to yield statistically significant results. If they aren’t, testing is a waste of time and money, and it’s just as likely to tell you the exact opposite of the truth as it is to enlighten you. If you can’t test, you should pay attention to those who do.
We can count on donor preferences shifting over time. It happens slowly in direct mail and more quickly online. If something works really well now, it may not always work. A few years ago, everybody started using brown paper bags as envelopes for direct mail pieces. It really worked like crazy. Then it suddenly stopped working–probably because it became so common it lost its novelty value.
Why you should buy this book
Anyone charged with communicating on behalf of his nonprofit should buy this book. Brooks shares the latest conventions and discoveries in effective fundraising messages. In fact, very few of our early fundraising conventions remain and those that do are bendable rules at best.
What you learned in school or early in your career is no longer relevant. You will find the art and science of writing to the donor has evolved a great deal. Jeff Brooks is the antithesis of “those who can’t do, teach.” He’s a consultant and practitioner who is constantly perfecting, testing and retesting his craft. You’ll find this book supremely insightful and a bottom-line-changer.
See other relevant book summaries and titles:
Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing
Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money
Seeing Through A Donor’s Eyes
Image credits: Slate.com. sharpenet.com, globalpassionblog.wordpress.com, theconnectedcause.com