Messaging is a key ingredient in successful fundraising.
No matter if you’re asking for money or building a donor relationship, what you say and how you say it will either grab the donor’s attention or push them away.
Your words are a turn on or a turn off.
It’s kind of like dating: if all someone does is talk about themselves, how interested are you in continuing the relationship? Not very likely, I’m sure.
Same thing with your donors. Years ago, you could say “please give because we’re a nonprofit doing good work” and that would work. Not anymore.
- grabs their attention (because people are incredibly busy and have the attention span of a goldfish), and
- inspires them to give (because they won’t create their own inspiration).
So, what can you do to keep donors interested? How do you keep them reading all the way through to your call to action?
It’s not as hard as you think. But it does take some effort and practice. And there are a few mistakes you’ll want to avoid.
Here are 7 big mistakes you can make in your writing that will cause donors and prospects to stop reading. Avoid these messaging mistakes and you’ll dramatically increase your chances of getting the results you’re looking for.
1. Ego-centered language. This is what I call ‘Fundraising French’ because it’s all ‘we, we, we’ and ‘us, our, ours.’ All you talk about is your programs and your process, and it’s not interesting to your donor. So, flip it. Instead of talking about your 6 programs covering 12 counties, talk about what those programs make possible: talk about impact and outcomes. It’s MUCH more interesting to the donor – after all, the biggest reason they give is to help you make a difference in the world.
2. Too many stats. If one number is good, lots of numbers are better, right? Not really. If you’re trying to prove that your young nonprofit is worthy of someone’s gift, it’s easy to fall into a statistic haze, sharing lots and lots of numbers. The problem is that most people can’t handle too many numbers. So, when you’re creating a message, use one or two well-chosen stats that back up your words. For example, if you’re trying to convince someone that your nonprofit is a good investment for their philanthropic dollars, share how much of every dollar given goes to programs. If you want to show that your animal shelter is saving lots of animals, share a bar chart that shows how your euthanasia rates have gone down dramatically over the past 3 years.
3. No story. All facts and no emotion make your message boring. Emotion comes from story, so tell a good one about someone whose life has been changed by your nonprofit’s work. Storytelling is an art and science: you want to include the details that support your point while keeping it short enough to keep the reader interested. Not sure if your story works? Ask someone who knows nothing about your nonprofit to read it and see what their reaction is. Then you’ll know what you need to adjust it.
4. Too long. The busier people are, the less they read. And if a page or screen of text looks too hard to read, people won’t bother. So, keep your message short. If you must use a long piece of text, break it into smaller chunks with headings, graphics, or photos. It’s easy to become attached to something we’ve written ourselves and we think it all needs to be included, but the truth is this: the shorter the piece, the more likely it will get read.
5. Too much jargon. Jargon is insider language, acronyms, and slang that you probably use every day inside your nonprofit, but no one outside the organization understands. So, don’t use it in your communications, social media posts, or appeals. When people aren’t familiar with the words you’re using, it can make them feel stupid, and chances are really good they’ll stop reading right there. Keep your language simple and easily understood so people can get the message you’re trying to send without getting hung up on words they don’t know.
5.a Sounding smart. Sometimes, especially when we’re trying to establish credibility for a new nonprofit, we think we need to sound smart to earn the respect of our audience. So, we pull out all the big words we know and throw some jargon in to make sure people get that we know what we’re talking about. Except that it backfires. Your “smart-sounding message” will not land in your reader’s heart. It will not educate them. And it will not move them to take action. Don’t worry about sounding smart. Worry about engaging someone emotionally.
6. Too many asks. Keep your communications simple: make one point and have one call to action. If you include too many choices, people get confused and won’t do anything. Have you ever gone to the store to buy salad dressing? There’s about 100 choices. How easy is it too decide when there are too many options? Yeah, it’s hard. So, make it easy for your donors. Don’t ask them to donate, buy an event ticket, support your wish list, and volunteer all in the same message. Stick to ONE thing and you’ll be more likely to get the results you’re looking for.
7. No call to action. The only thing worse than having too many choices is not asking for anything. If you want people to volunteer, give, or do something else, you must ASK. Don’t make your audience try to guess what you want – they won’t. Always have a call to action and spell out the steps people need to take (“click the donate now button”, “download the volunteer application,” etc.). When you’re clear in your request, it’s easier for people to respond.
The bottom line here is that it’s your job to think about what you want to say and make it interesting for your reader. Your message needs to connect and inspire.
Bore people and you lose. Big. You’ll lose their gift now and their attention for future gifts, because you’re training them to tune you out. Open rates prove that.
When you get your messaging right, people will respond, give, and support your nonprofit in a big way.