An excellent appeal [be it for money or attention] shares the same attributes, in that it can be:

  • Read quickly
  • Easily skimmed for highlights
  • Addresses the donors’ main focus of “what’s in it for me”
  • Has a powerful, singular call to action [sometimes repeated multiple times as with a DM piece]

Your donors’ attention spans are shortening, they’ve got a million other things on their minds besides your letter and to be honest, with the, and due to, the never ending stream of competing appeals, will most likely approach your letter skeptically [can you blame them]. Just getting a donor to open your letter is a feat in and of itself.

So let’s take 15, and go through [one of many] checklists to diagnose your donor communications. Again, this not just for asks.

1 – Run your copy through Hemingway. This free online tools gives you your letter’s reading grade level [don’t go above 6th grade], identifies complex sentences which may require too much processing to read, and counts the number of adverbs you are using [keep it minimal]. Here’s how this post shapes up so far.

2 – My favourite whenever I begin auditing an organization’s communications is the “Because of you” test: Donors don’t give TO your organization, they give THROUGH your organization. So pick a standard letter that you are sending your donor, grab a highlighter and highlight every single time you address the donor directly: “because of you, thanks to you, you are creating, you’ve made it possible, you are…”. Then grab a red pen and circle every time that you speak in your organization’s voice: “We are making a world, We have invested, we need, we could save, we work hard to”.

Donors don’t give a shit about YOU. Get over it.

You have an opportunity to amplify your narratives, to address your donor like a human, to address them directly [“you”] should heavily outweigh how much you talk about yourself [“We”]. Oh, and there should always at minimum be one “Thank you” present. Thank you for reading this far. Here’s the new method I was talking about:

3 – Calls to action – As aforementioned, each communications piece should have one specific call to action – preferably repeated a few times. This is just as important with say, a thank you letter – as per #2 you should be thanking your donor multiple times throughout your comms piece. So what’s the odd method to do this?

The next time you are evaluating your communications materials add this diagnostic method – the “Lalala… I can’t hear you method”. How it works is you give your draft letter to a colleague and ask them to read it to you 5 times. Then after your “Dear Friend” section [don’t EVER use friend], place your fingers [or just cup your ears, waxy-ass-having…] in your ears for various timed intervals and see if you can still retaining the essence of what it is that you are asking and trying to convey to your donor.

For example, have them read it to you once while plugging your ears every 3 seconds, then read it again at 5 second intervals, then 7, then 10, then 15 – does the message still resonate? At all of the various intervals can you still:

  1. Understand the essence of the message?
  2. Understand what’s in it for me?
  3. Understand and be moved by the call to action?

To make this an even more significant exercise, have your colleague be the ear-plugger rather than yourself, prior to them having ever read the letter – and see if they come to the same conclusions.

You’re going to look weird. So what. This method works best while reviewing DM letters which are longer by nature and have repeated calls to action due to the formulaic science of DM, however, you shouldn’t hesitate to use this method with your shorter communications pieces such as an email appeal or a thank you letter – simply use shorter intervals, say 1-2 seconds, and see if your message still resonates.

As fundraisers we spend a lot of time making sure that we use the right words, verbiage, sentence length, etc., but often we work off of the assumption as if our donors are hanging on to every single word. I guess I’ll repeat it again:

Donors don’t give a shit about YOU. Get over it.

Try this method with all of your communications, from stewardship reports to advocacy petitions. It works by ensuring that you are forcing your message to be consistent and repeated enough that donors undoubtdebly skimming your letters, subconsciously asking “What’s In It For Me?” will still be satiated by the impact of your message and calls to action.

May you continue to look like a weirdo while cultivating the joy of giving.


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