Writing to Humans

an OTG guest post by Sheena Greer

Ever read something and think “was this written by aliens? Or robots? Or robot aliens?”

I feel this way a lot.

Especially when I comb over fundraising appeals that arrive in my mailbox. Certainly, I’m more critical than your average person, but my guess is that if an appeal fills me with disappointment, it’s having a much more devastating effect on the broader audience.

Apathy.

Apathy is the social sector’s biggest enemy. There are many reasons why people are apathetic, but the root cause is very fixable.

In his TedTalk “Redefining Apathy”, Dave Meslin suggests that people want to do great things, but we live in a world that actively discourages engagement.

How so? Poor communication. On purpose. Or accidentally.

Instead of engaging humans in their own language, we engage them with the language of a machine.

Organisations are machines. Not unlike robots.

I hope your organisation is a well-oiled machine (as opposed to a rusted-out old boat.) Imagine this. Your board is fantastic. Your ED is superb. Your staff is delivering the best possible programs to the community you serve. And the community is way better for it.

Wonderful!

The only problem? You’re severely under-funded.

The machine needs fuel. It needs the hearts and minds (and dollars!) of humans to keep it moving.

“Our programs are so awesome! Why aren’t people giving?” This is something I hear quite a bit from people working on the front lines. “Our mission so important…our work is improving and saving lives!”

The problem is that the language we use when speaking with donors and others in the community is far too similar to the language we use internally.  The effect of this ‘loss in translation’?  Apathy.

So how do we write for humans? It isn’t too hard, but there are some basic concepts you need to keep in mind.

1)     Know your audience. And “general public” isn’t an acceptable answer. There are individuals in the world who are going to care deeply about your cause, and there are individuals who simply won’t.

You need to get to know the former and cut your losses on the latter.

We often view “preaching to the choir” as negative. But the choir is your audience, along with the parishioners, and even people straggling in the foyer.  These iare the people you need to focus on activating and keeping activated. The passersby on the street likely won’t be converting anytime soon.

2)     Kill the royal we.  One of the biggest mistakes an organisation can make is to talk too much about itself.  And too much is usually a lot less than many of us think.  So, how do you inform and show impact without doing this?

Make it about the royal you.  Tell donors that the wonderful things you are accomplishing is all because of them.  You will connect to their hearts.  Invite them to share their dreams for change.  They will commit to make them come true.

“Because of you, Samantha was able to finish school.”

“You can imagine how incredible it feels to be told you are cancer-free.”

“You made all of this possible.”

3)     Use plain language. Plain language isn’t “dumbing things down.” It communicates your message in a simple and powerful way.

No jargon.  No rambling.  No bullshit.

“It has come to the attention of management that an excess in ultra contemporary diminutive humanoid garments for lower body extremities has unfortunately resulted in increased pressure to downsize due to inadequate performance.”

No!

Plain language gets to the point and, as my old creative writing prof used to say, “goes for the jugular!”

“For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

4)     Don’t be afraid of emotion.  Embrace it and don’t let it go!  The work we’re doing is emotional! We see the darkest parts of humanity. We also witness miracles.

It isn’t just about joy and pain. What about humour? Curiosity? Surprise? Sorrow? Frustration? Courage?

Go ahead.  Stir up emotions in your audience. Humans feel. And when humans feel deeply, change is made.

5)     Ask and be clear. All too often, we can forget to include a call to action. We can’t be afraid to ask people directly for what we want – whether it’s a fundraising appeal asking for dollars or a Facebook post requesting volunteers for an event. Using vague statements like “we need your support” is meaningless.

6)     Communication is best when it’s one-on-one. We can’t always sit face to face with our donors, but we need to mimic this in our communications. No “Dear friends” or even “Dear Supporter.” No “Sincerely, The entire board of this organisation” signatories.

Think of a wonderful personal letter (or email) you’ve received.

Sheena,
I love you and I’m your number one fan. Your mom and I are so proud of you!
Love ya Beans,
Dad

OR

Dear child,
We appreciate you and your continued efforts towards excellence.
Respectfully,
Management of the Miller Family.

Which note do you think made me tear up when I read it?

7)     Tell a story. Humans have evolved to tell stories. We haven’t evolved to comb through statistics and facts and dry, boring reports. Robots LOVE numbers and statistics.  So send those to your robot overlords.

Stories are for humans. Their brains are hard-wired for them.  Tell your stories to your humans!

8)     Say what you need to say – no more, no less. Likely, we could go on and on about our organisations. We think that much of what happens in the day to day of it all is important. And it is – internally.

Here’s a surefire formula for success.  Choose your topic well, tell a great story filled with emotion, use plain language and clearly ask for a donation.  That’s it, you’re done.  Don’t force it.  Cramming too much into a 2 page letter, or trying to fill the dead space of a not-quite 4 page letter will end in heartache – for you, and your reader.

This is a first of several guest blog posts from some of our very favourite fundraisers and people-who-work-with fundraisers.  Sheena Greer from colludo.ca is an ass-kicking do-gooder and committed charity communications professional.  You can reach her directly by email or phone (306-230-1951).

And if you enjoy this post, just imagine how much donor chemistry a colludo/FundraisingPharmacy mashup could create for your charity.  Email or call David (toll-free in North America on 1-800-991-3318 x101 or on our New Zealand freephone 0800 995 054) today for free, no obligation advice. 


Are you treating your Monthly Donors like cherished family members?

Monthly donors (aka regular givers) are incredibly valuable to your charity, so it’s critical to roll out the welcome mat and make them feel like cherished members of your family.  That starts with exceptional stewardship right from the beginning of the relationship.

Stewardship starts by having a rock-solid gift-fulfillment process.  By managing this pivotal detail, you show from day one that you care about the donor’s gift and are trustworthy and well-organised.

Next you should do everything in your power to make sure the donor is thanked as soon as possible, and in the most personal way.  A thank you telephone call within 48 hours of the gift is the gold standard.  It’s also a fantastic way to verify donor details.  (But this call shouldn’t replace a written thank you…you literally cannot say thank you too much or too often).

Then, within a week, send an emotionally engaging and personal New Donor Welcome Package (NDWP) by post (even for online donors).  While you should have an NDWP for all of your new donors, make sure the package for your monthly donors is a little more special.  You can start simply by investing time in a live signature and a handwritten note.

Finally, send an email follow-up a week or so after the first gift has been processed so you can check-in with your new monthly donor.  Ask them if they’ve received the NDWP and have any questions.  You’ll reinforce that you genuinely care and it’s also a nice way to lead them into your monthly donor communications schedule for the balance of the year.

The ultimate goal for your welcome process is to make your new donor feel like they’ve made a good investment with their commitment to a monthly gift for your organisation. 

Do you need some help creating chemistry with monthly donors?  Email or call David (toll-free in North America on 1-800-991-3318 x101 or on our New Zealand freephone 0800 995 054) today for free, no obligation advice. 


One simple step to create healthy donor relationships.

 

None of Your Business - image for blog
 
Does your charity direct donors to call a toll-free or auto-attendant line instead of a real person who can help?  Or do you invite donors to email info@charitymeh.com on your Planned Giving webpages?  If so, this is what you are really saying to donors desperately trying to connect to a human being at your organization.
 

 

There is one powerfully simple way you can instantly begin creating healthy, effective and rewarding long-term donor relationships:

Ensure your donors can easily find the name, phone number and email address of a real live person that can help them with an inquiry, complaint, compliment or even a donation.  Then invite them to use this information.  Invite them to call, email or pop by.  For any reason.

Next, make sure this information is everywhere your donors’ eyes are…thank you letters, direct mail reply/donation forms, annual report, newsletter, brochures and on every single page of your website.

Why?

  • Donors won’t just figure it out.
  • It speaks volumes that your organization is thoughtful and takes donor relationships seriously.
  • Most donors will never call, email or pop in, but there’s a comfort and trust factor knowing that they can.
  • You will create a culture shift to focus on donor needs and service.
  • You will build loyalty and loyal donors are incredibly valuable (monthly, midmost and bequest donors usually start as loyal donors).

The simplicity of this gesture belies its power.

It can deliver millions to your organization long term.

Take a few minutes now and find the places you can make this change quickly and easily. Then take a few more minutes tomorrow to make sure it happens.  You’ll be prepared to really maximize that massive effort you’re putting into your fundraising this busy holiday season.

It’s an incredibly effective way you can show your donors the respect and love they deserve.

Do you need some more ideas on creating donor chemistry?  Call David toll-free in North America on 1-800-991-3318 x101 (or on our New Zealand freephone 0800 995 054) today for free, no obligation advice. 

This post was originally prepared for the AFP Toronto Congress 2014 blog and can also be viewed by clicking here.

A Stewardship Booster Shot

You’re working hard on your Thanksgiving and Holiday solicitations, right?

Perfect!  After all, you are about to head into the busiest fundraising season for virtually every charity in Canada.  And this is the best time to bring in money for your organization through the mail, phone, online and with personal asks.

But hang on for just a second.

I want you to promise me one thing… You see, in such a whirlwind season, a normally healthy donor relationship can start to feel unwell.

So, promise me you will take the time to get a stewardship booster shot!

Here are three quick, affordable and easy ways you can make sure you inoculate your fundraising program against donor fatigue and burnout.

  1.  Send a donor newsletter in the fall. – it’s not too late.  Aim to drop it in mid-October, in between your Thanksgiving appeal and your holiday solicitation.  A short simple, single sheet of 8.5×11 with 2 to 3 short articles and a few pictures will do the trick.  Pop it in the mail, take it on a visit, send it by email.  Make sure your donor has a quick update on what’s going on at your organization and tell them how their gifts are making that work possible.
  2. Polish up your thank you letter.  Write a fresh and personal thank you for all the gifts you receive in the fall.   Make sure your donors feel well-thanked before heading into an intense solicitation cycle.  Your well-crafted and sincere thank you will make you stand out in the crowded holiday asking season
  3. Send a “We Love You” email in early December.  Have your Executive Director/CEO (or another respected leader at your charity) send a warm email at the beginning of December.  It should be very short, with a simple message thanking the donor for their generosity throughout 2012.  It should gush a little (but make sure it is genuine) but still be short. No ask, just love.

No matter how you do it, please set aside some time to find opportunities to inject stewardship into your busy schedule.

It’s a good way to keep your donor relationships healthy.  And healthy donor relationships always mean you could have the holiday best fundraising season ever!

 

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Add this Supplement for a Healthy Fundraising Diet

Are you maximizing your holiday fundraising potential?

Almost every single fundraiser breaks out an extra strength campaign for the November and December holiday season.  And for good reason.  Many of the top charities receive 30% or more of their annual revenue in December.

But this is not a post about that holiday period.

I want to talk about Thanksgiving.

GIVING!

THANKS!

It’s our work summed up in 2 words.  A more perfect holiday for our sector just doesn’t exist.  In fact, if we didn’t already have it, fundraisers would have to invent it.

Can you imagine a better time to send an ask to your donors?  If you already are, then you are awesome and class dismissed.

But, if you’re like the legions of charities in Canada not capitalizing on this wonderful opportunity then I’d strongly recommend adding an early fall campaign related to Thanksgiving.  Here in Canada that means having something (mail, email, or both) arriving in people’s homes in early October.

Here’s an easy-to-swallow prescription to get started:

Step 1 – Evoke a Feeling of Gratitude:  Most people feel strong emotions when they pause to think about their good fortune.  I know this stirs some pretty intense feelings in my own mind.

Step 2 – Link Gratitude to Philanthropy:  Help your donors string together the gratitude they feel for their relative abundance and the thought that many people are not as fortunate with an example tied directly your cause/organization/work.  This is a powerful frame of mind to create for donors.  Personally, I know how downright emotional I can get in these moments.

Step 3 – Ask :  You’ve set the stage, so make sure you ask.  Connect the solicitation directly with the work your organization does.  Show your donors how they can really help someone, or solve a problem by giving a gift in thanks.

Bonus StepFrame the Ask:  Create what Direct Marketing consultants like to call ‘dollar handles’.  Frame your ask amounts around some traditional Thanksgiving costs – eg: typical price of a turkey,  a fancy dessert, a special bottle of wine, or even the cost of fleeing town to avoid an unpleasant family member (just a completely random inclusion, I swear.)

Adding another solicitation campaign to your fundraising program is not always a simple process, I know.  But this just makes so much sense.  I promise it will be worth it.

And if you get started today, you’ll have just enough time to be successful.

Who knows…after you see the results you may even want to add Fundraising Pharmacy to your thank-you list for next fall!

If you’d like some help getting your Thanksgiving campaign off to a healthy start, click here to contact me right now.

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5 Step Formula to Meaningful Thank You Letters

A few days ago I actually typed these words in an email to a former colleague:

“I get downright preachy about effective thank you letters.”

Hmmm…upon reflection, I realized there were a couple of serious issues with this:

·        I was pitching a luncheon presentation and ‘preachy’ is probably not a great descriptive for a positive and entertaining learning experience.

·        It’s been a long time since I wrote a rant about Thank You letters.

OK…so I can’t do much about the first point.  But I can pull out my soapbox and get back on it…

Here’s a Fundraising Pharmacy formula for effective thank you letters:

1.    Choose a great signatory – The best signatory may not be the Board Chair or President.  It may even be you!  The signatory should convey their passion for the work that your charity does and be able to speak about how the donor’s gift will impact that work.  And this letter must only be signed by one person (no co-signing or generic signatures like ‘the Board’).

2.    Write it how you  would say it – It always amazes me that people who are so warm and genuine in person feel the need to be formal and stiff in their writing.  I find it very helpful to imagine I was meeting the donor at an event and then jot down what I would say to them face-to-face.  It always surprises me how much material this gets me!

3.    Keep it personal – Throw in a micro-anecdote to draw your donor into the world of the signatory.  Did the person signing the thank you letter just walk past a room where program staff are busy helping people?  Maybe they walk past a photo of the founder every day?  Build a thank you around that experience and their feelings.

4.    Don’t wait for the Annual Report – The number one thing donors want from you is to know how their gifts make a difference.  So, make sure you update them in the thank you letter. You just have to find a success you can report that relates to the campaign/appeal the donor gave to.  EG:  the equipment you raised funds for has been purchased and will arrive in a few weeks; you are set to begin renovations to the program space that needed improvements.

5.    Give them your digits – If you want to see this donor again, you are going to have to give them your phone number.  Email, too.  Don’t try to shuffle them off to the switchboard, general reception line or info@ email address.  Give them the signatory’s direct line and actual email address.  Invite them to call anytime for any reason.  If your signatory is not comfortable with this, choose another signatory.  A few donors may call, but it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll receive more than a few calls over the course of a year.  But extending the invitation will help build trust.

Here’s your chance to seize the opportunity to transform an obligatory task into a powerful and personal connection with your donors!  And this formula should get you well on your way to healthier donor relationships.

 

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