Posts Tagged ‘fundraising communications’

Donor surveys hide the truth about longer fundraising messages

Writing fundraising communications is not merely a derivative of commercial marketing, academic writing or business prose. It’s a highly specialized and nuanced technique that requires experience, ongoing testing and specific knowledge about the reader.

Nonprofits that risk taking a casual approach to their fundraising communications or worse, allow someone without context or background change the branding and donor outreach methods entirely, will find themselves recovering lost ground for months, sometimes years.

The donor relationship equity built over the lifetime of an organization should not be taken lightly. Author Jeff Brooks encourages you to apply his proven strategies for raising more money and avoid jarring tactics that jeopardize donor relationships.

In Brooks’ latest book, The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications: Real-World Field-Tested Strategies for Raising More Money (, 2012), he skillfully and entertainingly instructs you in an easy and informative manner about everything you need to know about fundraising communications.

To wax on or not to wax on

In this post, I want to highlight one of many elements he covers in the book under “Writing Style.” Brooks tackles the debate over the length of your content and that longer messaging allows for effective use of repetition and storytelling.

What donors really want in your fundraising messages

Even though it is counterintuitive, longer messages, when tested, work better than shorter ones. When donors are asked whether they want short or long messages, they assert they want shorter ones. But actual donor behavior favors the longer messages.

No one really knows why, but theories include the following: A longer appeal can contain multiple triggers or opportunities to relay a message, such as a visualization of a life-threatening need or emphasis on a problem, and a longer message holds more weight, among others.

The two essential characteristics in the best longer messages include:

Stories: You can flesh out your stories in longer messages to deliver more vivid images.

Repetition: This will help your readers get the message clearly. Here is an outline Brooks gives for your message:

Introduction: Why I’m writing to you.


Why your gift is so important today.


How much impact your gift will have.


Story that demonstrates the need.


Remind the donor of his values and connection with the cause.


Another story.


Help the donor visualize what will happen when she gives.


Conclusion: Thank the donor for caring.

Ask again.

If you haven’t picked up on Brooks’ theme here, let me spell it out for you. Longer messages let you repeat your ask and frame it in several ways, increasing your chances for triggering the response you’re looking for. Additionally, stories have greater potential when they can be expanded with more detail and emotion.

Why do fundraisers get it wrong when writing solicitations?

Content length is simply one of numerous techniques Brooks covers for fundraisers who find themselves in the communications role. Let’s pull back from this specific writing style example and introduce one of Brooks’ answers to our question about why so many fundraisers get it wrong when crafting an appeal. Here’s what he said:

CausePlanet: Jeff, thank you for writing this book that clearly emphasizes the best ways to write fundraising materials, contrary to many common beliefs. Why do you think so many fundraisers are so misguided and write unsuccessful solicitations?

Jeff Brooks: Almost everyone who enters the fundraising profession comes from somewhere else. Those who realize they’re in a new world and seek to understand it quickly learn how to do effective fundraising. Those who aren’t curious and open-minded, who insist on bringing the conventions of another discipline (such as commercial marketing), fail repeatedly and spectacularly.

The other source of unsuccessful fundraising is “Fundraising From Yourself”–the belief that if it’s persuasive to me, it’s good. That NEVER works. You have to aim at donors, and that always means you won’t find the message compelling.

See this book, Page to Practice summary and other relevant titles:

The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications: Real-World Field-Tested Strategies for Raising More Money

The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving

Seeing Through A Donor’s Eyes

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

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Leverage the “power of three” for effective communications

The nonprofit market has become increasingly tight, making it more important than ever to shine when communicating with donors and prospects. Your mailings or website are very often the first impression an individual or corporation receives of your organization. By applying the “power of three” in your marketing design, you can improve your chances that prospective donors will read your message.

The “power of three” is a design theory that, simply stated, says that when people are presented with items in groups of three, they are more attracted to that group than with groups with more or less items in it. For example, three colors in a brochure are more effective than two or four because they are easier and more pleasant for our brains to process.

As marketers who develop a wide variety of advertising and marketing campaigns for all types of industries and clients, we found that when the power of three is applied to a communication message, that message resonates better with an audience. With this theory in mind, we designed three messaging components that we incorporate into everything we do: emotional, intellectual and functional.

Functional Component

This component communicates the functional benefits, attributes and features of your program or service. The functional component provides information about what business or service you are in, such as children’s health services, arts education or providing shelters for the homeless, in addition to where you are located or how many offices you have. This is the easiest component for many marketers to communicate, but it rarely gets the reader to act. Simply providing this factual information will cause most prospects to just file the information away and do nothing. Unless your organization is the only one in the city, country or world that offers this service and, therefore, is in high-demand, your communications need more information to be effective.

Intellectual Component

This component provides the opportunity to differentiate and separate your organization from the competition. This includes elements such as perceived quality and perceived value. The trick here for all marketers is to provide information that is relevant and important for their audience. How does your audience perceive quality and value in relation to your program or service? Do you have any significant intellectual properties for quality and value comparison that are of importance to your audience? If so, be sure they are included early on in your communications piece. Don’t hide these messages–they are important and can move a reader to consider action.

Emotional Component

This is the most powerful aspect of any communication piece and often the one that gets the least amount of attention from organization leaders who, ultimately, have to approve communications and their budgets.
Most organizations tend to associate good marketing with communications that focus on the factual and intellectual aspects of their companies. This makes sense since, after all, they are responsible for running an organization and need to focus on non-emotional business aspects to be successful. But, when it comes to being successful in communications messages, particularly those aimed at prospects, emotional components pack the action punch organizations are looking for.

Emotional components include features such as compelling photography and effective, beautifully written copy (in headlines and body copy). The reason emotional aspects work so hard in communications is that they connect the message on a personal level which, in turn, makes it more interesting and important to listen to.

The communication becomes less about your organization fighting to get the reader’s attention to teach something to the reader wanting to learn more about your organization to become part of it, experience it or obtain what you are providing. When your communications can affect someone to do something, you get results—and that is when your marketing funds are well spent.

Using the functional and intellectual components of your message helps to inform and educate your readers, giving them reasons to believe your organization is important for them to know about. But, be sure to pack a punch with an emotional hook to get them to believe in your organization as an important part of their lives that deserves their donations, purchase or other action of support.

See also:


Nonprofit Marketing Guide

Content Marketing for Nonprofits

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