Brand-Forward ≠ Fundraising Writing

Who’s doing the writing, a person or an organization?

In my career, I have seen and personally experienced a tug-of-war between marketing and development departments. It’s not because marketing people are mean or bad at their jobs, they are some of the smartest people I know. It may be familiar to you, here’s how it goes:

The development team asks the marketing team to write a fundraising letter for them. The marketing team produces a great piece that hits on all the high points they’ve been trained to write about: how many lives they’ve impacted, how what the organization does is better/faster/more efficient (pick your unique selling proposition) than other organizations, how much money people give to them, and appropriately use of their name in at least four mentions. Yeay us!

The piece is mailed and surprisingly, does not raise as much money as was hoped. Everyone scratches their heads and commits to doing better next time.

What happened?

Here’s the truth about brand-forward communication: Donors. Don’t. Care.

What do donors care about?

What organizations have done with the money they’ve already given. Why the nonprofits still need donors’ support. How donating to the organization is changing the world.

Here’s the difference, in a real-world example.

I was asked to help a client write a fundraising piece that would be mailed to current donors. As a starting point, I was given the piece that was mailed the previous year, mostly for the facts and figures. This is a human services organization that employs people with disabilities.

This was the original opening sentence: “Our mission has never been as important as it is now. Nationwide, only one-third of working-age people with disabilities are employed.”

Who have we talked about so far? The organization first and the people we want to help, in general.

The letter went on to quote many facts and figures, backed up by the Department of Labor, on the number of people with disabilities who are unemployed, and asks for a donation because this organization employees people with disabilities. Reading this, I’m still not sure why this organization needs my donation to hire employees.

Instead, let’s try this:

“I am writing to you because there are people right here in our community who cannot  find meaningful work, and you have the power to help them.”

Wait, me? People who live by me need my help?

The letter goes on to tell the story of one particular person who found himself out-of-work after a health crisis, and how the organization helped him find meaningful work again after two years of being unemployed. It talks about how the company provides special accommodations and training to people with disabilities so they can be successful not only at work, but also in life. The employee gushes about how grateful he is to be able to work again and provide for himself.

Now which letter would convince you to make a donation, the one filled with facts and figures, or the one about an individual whose life was changed due to this organization’s work?

The result?

More money raised, but, more importantly, more donors chose to give again to support the mission. Unless nonprofits can retain the donors they already have, they will find themselves on a sinking ship of ever shrinking donors and revenues. But that’s a post for another day.

Point is, there is a crossroads between brand-forward and fundraising communications and many nonprofits have a hard time finding that intersection. Keep at it, keep searching for that crossroad. If you need help, call me. 🙂

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