There’s a lot of writing involved in fundraising and by using the inverted pyramid, avoiding the curse of knowledge, making the reader the hero of the story and selling the joy of giving you will write better and raise more money.
1. Use The Inverted Pyramid
Inverting the pyramid is a tried and true journalistic method of writing where the most newsworthy information is delivered right away, known as the lead, and as the column goes on more detailed information is provided. According to Made to Stick authors Chip and Dan Heath this “strategy” may have come to be when reporters covering the Civil War had to transmit messages back to their paper but their message could be cut off at any point so they had to put the most pertinent and important information first.
It’s a bit ironic that a communications necessity from the Civil War era has never been more important even with all our communication “advances” as it helps cut through the noise and get to the heart of the message. Two very important things when people are skimming headlines and not finishing posts and articles (because they are and they aren’t…).
This is something charity: water does well in emails, landing pages and a lot of their communications. Water is a complex issue and they provide great service in complex ways but it’s only once you start digging deeper and deeper (if you want to that is) that you get to it. You get the main points right away. It’s great for journalism and great for fundraising.
2. Avoid The Curse Of Knowledge
Once you know something it can be quite hard to remember what it is like not knowing it. This often leads to bypassing the most important and high level information, which makes a great lead, and diving into new and more detailed information. No!
IF they read all your emails and blog posts (which they don’t) they may remember some key messages (if you’re good) so covering the most important information more than once is not boring or a waste of time but actually a must of good communications.
The brilliant Jeff Brooks (more from him below) references the Curse of Knowledge in a post and shares some advice on how to combat it from Steven Pinker in a Wall Street Journal article. Pinker’s advice:
Remember that readers know a lot less about your subject than you think, and unless you keep track of what you know that they don’t, you are guaranteed to confuse them.
Show a draft to some people who are similar to your intended audience and find out whether they can follow it.
Show a draft to yourself, ideally after enough time has passed that the text is no longer familiar.
Always try to lift yourself out of your parochial mind-set and find out how other people think and feel.
Another potential byproduct of the Curse of Knowledge is removing some of the emotion out of writing and communications. You can begin to get into debate mode and view the problems in rational ways with logical solutions because you’ve already been won over on the emotional side. And now you’re emotionally involved in that work every single day. Being objective and rational can be great for programs but fundraising is hugely emotional and more about rallying people than persuading them to your side with points and counter points.
It’s great that you know a lot. Don’t assume your audience does and definitely do not write as if they do.
3. Make The Reader The Hero Of The Story
There’s a slight difference between your organization changing the world and it not being possible without the support of donors and donors changing the world by giving to and through you. That slight difference can make a huge impact in your writing, communications and fundraising.
It’s about using “you” language instead of “we” language. It’s thinking about why donors give to your organization as opposed to why you deliver the programs you do. In a nut shell, good writing starts with understanding them before trying to explain yourself (you should probably Tweet that…)
I strongly suggest flipping through Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs as it is a great read from a marketing perspective of how truly great marketing is about calling customers/donors on an adventure where they are the hero and you are simply the mentor who helps them on their quest (and you should have a secret weapon to help them too). Make your donors the hero of the story.
4. Sell The Joy Of Giving
Fundraising is not arguing or persuading people into giving. It’s selling them the joy of giving. Arguing doesn’t work because it misses the point — the donors’ point. Selling joy works because it speaks to donors where they are.
A good feeling is often the only thing your organization can offer supporters in exchange for their gift which is why strategies that give good feelings away, like slacktivism and some cause marketing, without getting back some value in real donations can be dangerous. But when organizations do it well, and charity: water does this excellently, the results can be amazing.
If you’re in fundraising, you are probably writing and communicating all the time. Take it seriously. Push yourself. Be confident. If you can invert the pyramid, avoid the curse of knowledge, make the reader the hero of the story and sell the joy of giving you should be able to write better and raise more money. Good luck!