John’s recent blog, What is “good” design? got my wheels turning about what is good writing. So I’m sharing the 6 things that circle (and circle and circle) through my head each and every time I write, and edit, fundraising copy.
“All fundraising copy should sound like someone talking.” – George Smith
Rule number one. Sometimes your grammar isn’t perfect. It ain’t always pretty, but it works. It’s real. It’s genuine.
“Does it pass the ‘you’ test?” – Tom Ahern
Straight from Tom’s game-changing 9-step communications self-audit:
Get out a red pen. Then get out an important donor communication such as an appeal letter or newsletter; or print out your website’s home page. Apply red pen to paper. Each time the word you appears – in any of its forms (yours, you’ll) – circle it. Good donor communications will look like they have the measles. You is the most powerful (and warmest) word in advertising. (If you’re turning your nose up, please note: technically speaking, fundraising communications are just advertising by another name.) Frequent repetition of the word you keeps readers involved. While infrequent use leaves readers cold.”
The Agents also circle the word I – in any of its forms as it relates to charities (ABC Charity, we, our organization) and review those sentences, phrases and sections more closely. You won’t get rid of them all, but you’ll rethink how lots of them look and, more importantly, feel.
“The lumps in my throat tell me you got it right.” – David Love, the Godfather of Good
Done right, words are emotive and active. They express feelings. And they make your reader want to do something, change something, fix something…
“A writer who enjoys listening, watching and learning but is often found talking.” – Ken Burnett
This is actually Ken’s Twitter bio – 79 brilliant characters (80 including the punctuation). And it matters for one simple reason. Fundraising is not broadcasting. Leave your megaphones for your blog (ahem!). You should be writing with the deliberate intention to start, continue or inspire a conversation. Fundraising is about relationships (who said that again?) and dialogue.
“Our members feel this organization is THEIRS. – Kimberley MacKenzie
I’m paraphrasing our amazing and occasionally-exasperated-with-us client Kimberley, but she constantly reminded me of this when we started working together years ago. I’m proud to say that she doesn’t need to tell me anymore, and simply delighted that her insistence is now our standard. When your donors read your appeal or newsletters, do your donors feel included and as if it echoes their values and beliefs? You’re writing to them, for them and to honour them, aren’t you?
Did a human write this, or a f*cking robot? – John Lepp (waving arms)
Again, I’m paraphrasing. John’s language is far more foul. But he loses his grip with jargon, organization-speak and all other forms of institutional twaddle. Would you say this in a letter to your mom and dad? Do humans ever sound like this? If you have buzzwords, acronyms or razzle-dazzle strategic-visioning language in there, stop and talk like a person.
And here’s a bonus tip. The first time you write it, it should be raw and emotional but disconnected. The hardest part should be working in the ask, offer and promise. You need time and space to reflect, reconsider and adapt. Always put it down for as long as you can before looking at it again or sharing with anyone else.
So, who else wants to stand on the shoulders of these giants and share your thoughts, rants or tips on “good” fundraising writing?