Are you SURE we know “Who your nonprofit is and what do you do?”

in Acquisition & Prospecting,Copywriting - Nonprofit,Marketing for Nonprofits

Far too many folks at nonprofits think tidbits of copy are the answer for all communications. They believe no one reads more than a few sentences of anything, anywhere for any reason.

First – that’s not correct.

Second – you’re making your job of fundraising more difficult with that approach. Writing short copy is much harder than writing long copy. And it doesn’t matter what your copywriting skills are … sometimes you need more than one-page letter to make your case for giving or joining.

For example: Have you ever tried to write a tagline or slogan for a charity or association? Summarizing the gist of what you do in 3-8 words is tough. Relatively few do it well although many try.

Yet even when you’ve got that perfect logo and tagline combination, it’s takes more than that to persuade people to donate to your charity or join your association. This is also why you’re making your job more difficult with copy that’s too short.

You can go overboard with brevity to the point of leaving readers in the dark … void of emotional inspiration … unsure of how you’ll use their money. The result: Fewer people respond to your appeal (less revenue for your nonprofit).

Don’t make your prospects “read between the lines.” Don’t assume they can leap to the right conclusion about why they ought to support your nonprofit.

Don’t deprive them of helping a cause passionate to their heart because you didn’t care enough to fill in all the details for them.

Each gift they send is analogous to a Valentine. It’s a gift from the heart because they care. But they can’t wrap their arms around your cause if you don’t clearly communicate what you do.

For example:

Illustrate with stories (specific examples) how donors make a difference

Use plain English and plenty of white space

Don’t ramble, but cover the subject clearly and with enough detail

Use both sides of the paper in direct mail; and seriously consider two sheets of paper for acquisition. Your appeal will fall on deaf ears unless you clearly spell out the need in the right way … and with few exceptions, that takes more than one page.

Center the appeal on your prospect, donor or member. I’m talking about reader-centric copy.

Look at the related posts listed below for more details on how to write direct mail and email appeals that don’t require readers to make a leap. Remember, even long-time supporters know a tiny fraction of what you know about your organization.

If big names like the Red Cross or the Boys & Girls Clubs of America continue to discover that prospects know little about their mission … surely that’s a sign that your nonprofit faces an even bigger challenge. “Less” is not always “more.” “Less” is not always “best.”

Related posts:

Storytelling for Nonprofits … Why it works

More posts on nonprofit storytelling and how to do it (list of 12 posts with links)

2 Fundamentals of a Strong Fundraising Appeal

5 Most Common Mistakes in Fundraising Copy

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Awareness Fundraising Could Be Risky — Karen Zapp - Nonprofit Copywriter
October 24, 2012 at 7:48 am

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara February 28, 2012 at 8:33 pm

But…I NEVER read even the whole first page of a 4 page appeal (2 sheets). I skim the first paragraph, look at the captions and the form, then if I want more info, go online and really search. The extra paper just looks like waste to me, and I definitely don’t give to wasteful charities.

If it’s 2 pages of really good content, maybe, but don’t just write 2 pages full of non-profit-speak just because some study says 4 sides are better than 2.

Karen Zapp, copywriter February 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm


Thanks for weighing in. You raise points about the post that ought to be clarified. Here are a few things for you to consider:

1 – Your personal preferences, my personal preferences, or the preferences of any staff member aren’t relevant to how we create an appeal. What matters is how it performs in the marketplace. On-going testing determines what works best for each given nonprofit. And just because it works for Acme Charity, doesn’t mean it will work for yours. So you always have to test for your own organization.

2 – Any letter (regardless of length) has to be written for skimmers as well as the many people who do read all the content … even a 4-page letter. Again, test for your own nonprofit.

Also recognize that MANY nonprofits need the length to really explain what they do in an acquisition letter. Complicated, or particularly sensitive missions typically benefit from longer copy (i.e., they get a higher response and raise more funds). In any acquisition appeal there’s much to explain and numerous objections to overcome.

Also related to this point is the fact that a healthy percentage of donors do not go online for more research. Yes, we can probably say the majority do; and it varies by age group. The point is that we have to create print and online appeals that accommodate a variety of preferences. Again, what you or I do personally with an appeal is irrelevant.

3 – I agree with you about not including “non-profit speak.” I repeatedly urge nonprofit marketers and fundraisers to only share content that donors, members, advocates and volunteers consider valuable. Jargon and fluff have no place in an appeal or any other communication.

Let me know if you have anymore questions.

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