This has been my first ‘year-end’ with Shift and it’s been… fun. Nothing like starting your business in the busiest time of the year and when the pressure is highest to deliver results, on time. But with the majority of the craziness behind me, I’ve been able to catch up on some of my favourite blogs, reading and writing tips. Mainly Jeff Brooks.

1 Lesson Fundraisers Need To Constantly Learn

We don’t see things the way donors see things.

That’s the title of one of Mr. Brooks’ posts. And it’s also the key point and may lesson we, fundraisers, need to constantly learn. Too often we use our own experience, opinions and views to guide decisions, strategy and messaging. But unless we, marketers, insiders, charity workers, etc. are the focus of the message, it’s not a great way to go about things. In fact, Jeff suggests to possibly do the opposite of what we think will work for us. That’s how different our donors can be from us.

He uses a personal and recent example from this past #GivingTuesday:

It was Giving Tuesday, and my inbox was packed, overflowing, with emails from nonprofits, most of the subject lines including the word “#GivingTuesday.”

It was ridiculous. Overwhelming. Disturbing.

Virtually all of my clients had Giving Tuesday campaigns in the email. And I was thinking, There’s no way donors are going to be able to wade through all that. Our Giving Tuesday campaigns are doomed!

Except they weren’t. They all did okay if not even very good. But his fear is based on his knowledge – of fundraising – and his experience of his own inbox – not like a donor’s because of the nature of his work. His own frame of reference would’ve been detrimental to his clients had he used only that to make decisions.

I’m not the biggest #GivingTuesday fan in the world – I think it would be better in the Spring –  although I certainly don’t hate it, and one of our clients had their single biggest day of online giving on #GivingTuesday as well. The point here is less about #GivingTuesday and more about the fact that your donors aren’t you. So don’t write, market and message to you – do it for them.

And here’s three pretty easy ways to get more donor feedback:

  • Watch your analytics and metrics. Test different messages, content, images, pages, etc. See what your donors are responding to. What they say can be great but what they actually do is even more powerful.
  • Ask them yourself. Send out a survey, call them up or have a ‘focus group’ before your next event or just because.
  • Ask the people who talk to them. If you’re a marketer behind a desk, ask some of your programs staff that work with volunteers and fundraisers that meet with donors what they are saying. Send an appeal or email by them and their people before you send.

7 Writing Tips

Jeff has a great, must-read book for anyone who does direct response fundraising (direct mail especially) called How to Turn Your Words Into Money: The Master Fundraiser’s Guide to Persuasive WritingAnd in a recent post titled 7 surprising writing tricks that will help you raise more money he gives a glimpse at some of the gold in his book with these tips (inspired by a KISS Metrics post here):

  1. Illusory Truth. Repetition makes what you say seem more true to readers. Since you’re telling truths, give them the best chance of being perceived as true — repeated everything that’s important as often as possible.

  2. Rhyming. Rhyme makes your copy more memorable. Seek rhyming words when you write.

  3. Serial Positioning. The most important places in any block of text are the beginning and the end. (The middle is a wasteland by comparison.) Put important stuff at the beginning and end.

  4. Justification. The word “because.” Because it’s powerful.

  5. But You Are Free. Reminding donors that they are free to say no often helps them say yes!

  6. Leverage your P.S. Line. The most-read part of any letter. Make sure it says the most important thing.

  7. Textural Adjectives. Texture words activate the brain’s sensory areas. That helps your message feel more real and immediate. Look for descriptions that literally call up textures. “It was a rough time,” rather than “It was a difficult time.”

Of those, using repetition more to your advantage and leveraging the PS are some simple ways you can improve your writing but I found the textural adjectives unique. Using some different descriptors for regular stories or sentences that can activate the brain’s sensory areas is brilliant. All you’re really trying to do with a letter or email is get the reader’s attention, engage their brain and make it simple and clear for them to take an action. So anything that can help engage the brain is a great idea.


With #GivingTuesday behind us and Christmas approaching, it might be too late to best use all of these tips, but 2016 is just around the corner and the lesson that you are not your donor can’t be learned enough.