Full Circle Communications

November 2015
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ease in writing?
"Ease in writing" comes from a poem by Alexander Pope, the British poet:
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, 
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance. 
Note he (and I) didn't say "easy writing." But just as dance lessons can help get you around the floor more gracefully, the goal for this newsletter is to share a tip or two to improve your writing.

Recipient of Constant Contact All Star Awards, 2011 through 2014!

Writing to Raise Money   

As November slides into December, the days shorten and the holidays approach. Nonprofits have something more in mind: End-of-year giving.
According to Mary Kerwin, a consultant who works with nonprofits on fundraising and other matters, most receive 20 to 40% of their revenue in December, starting with #GivingTuesday on December 1.
A nonprofit's effective fundraising starts with a cause that donors want to support and the capability to create solutions. Assuming that's in place, how can good writing help an organization raise money? That's what I wanted to learn from Mary, who shared these ideas.
Provide fresh content
Most donors have gone to your website or read other communications from your group during the year. Have something new in December to keep them reading. 

Copy should be compelling and short, she said. Some tested ideas:
  • Review of what you accomplished in the previous year that fulfilled your mission
  • A look ahead at the top goals you will tackle in the year to come
  • Media or other third-party coverage of your "wins"
Write compelling, but conversational copy, not overly negative or aggressive. And make it short. Writers can often help colleagues immersed in the intricacies of their program be concise.

Use storytelling, but in the right place
Lately, everyone praises storytelling as a way to personalize a large problem--a story of a family and its challenges with homelessness versus a statistic about 800,000 homeless. 
While recognizing the value, Mary warned against overusing the technique, or rather making sure that you use it in situations where people will have the time and inclination to read or listen to your story. You can also embed a video or link to a feature story for those who want the story, without making them sit through it if they don't.
Recognize the power of a photo--and its caption
A strong photo draws people into what you have to say. Use a caption to connect the image with your message.
Don't always ask for money
Recognize and use the many channels available to you--from direct mail, to email, to phone calls or social media. But don't write copy to ask for money through all these channels. 

For example, write direct mail and email copy that does make the ask. (See below on hints for effective emails for fundraising.) Social media and phone calls could instead reinforce the work of the organization so donors are ready to give when they do receive a direct solicitation.

Help a contract writer help you
If you hire consultants to write your content, connect them with the "program people" in the organization, rather than funnel all the information through the development or communications team. Let writers learn about the substantive issues from the people doing the work, ideally in a sit-down meeting or at least by phone. She warned program staff sometimes short-change their own successes or get too involved in the details, which is where a strong writer, whether in-house or consultant, can help.
Mary's firm, Blue Strike, offers free webinars, tip sheets, and other resources, including the slides from a recent webinar on end-of-year fundraising.

EmailEmails to Raise Money

Every organization is different, every appeal is different, and, of course, so is every donor.

But raising money is easy to quantify, unlike some of the squishier things we try to accomplish. Analytics can reveal which campaigns succeed, defined as funds raised.

With this in mind, I summarize 8 steps for effective email fundraisers from consultant and trainer John Haydon, with some of my own advice inserted.

1. Tell a good story
See Mary's advice about storytelling above. In an email, the story has to be short and sweet. You will need to comb through many possibilities before you find one that is both compelling and easy to explain.

2. Make it about them
Don't be afraid to use the word "you."

3. Talk about the money
Here, he is talking about the need for transparency. We all know cases where donations were not used wisely. If you don't honestly have a reason to ask, don't ask. Then when you do have a reason, it rings true.

4. Tell them what their money will do
Such as the examples on this website I recently worked on for the Childhood League Center in Columbus, Ohio.

5. Keep it short
He says--
  • 2 to 3 paragraphs
  • 2 to 3 sentences per paragraph
  • Headlines to break up the text
6. Ask three times
A graphic, words at the top, words at the bottom--make it easy for a donor to take action

7. Tell them they can say no
This is first I have heard the "But you are free to choose" technique.  it sounds a little crazy but makes sense. He cited a study from Communications Studies backing this up. (Note: you can see the abstract here, but you will have to pay to read the full article.)

8. Don't ask for money in the first email
This is a variation on Mary's point above to use multiple channels, not always asking for a donation.
Full Circle Communications, LLC / Alexandria, VA / 703.212.0350