The power of an old cliche

Direct Creative Blog notes one of those annoying conversations you get from time to time at Has “FREE” become cliche?.

Seems a young copywriter had some important news: the word “free” is dead. The writer’s reasoning:

It’s a cliche. No one uses this anymore and no one pays attention to headlines that say free. Who believes that anymore? You have to be more subtle now.

I get these pronouncements too. They tend to come from people who’ve been in fundraising a very short time. And/or the effectiveness of their work is not being measured, so they feel free to make sweeping, meaningless pronouncements like that.

Don’t listen. Don’t be fooled. These folks are just blowing smoke in your face. Remember these things:


  • If it’s a cliche, that’s not a reason to avoid it. Cliches are words and thoughts that a lot of people understand. (If we called them “memes” instead of “cliches,” I bet young writers would be a lot more apt to use them.)
  • If it’s overused, that’s usually a sign that it works.
  • If someone says no one responds to that any more, ask for some evidence. Most often people who say that really mean I’m tired of that and don’t want to say it any more. If they have hard evidence in the form of statistically significant response data, then you should listen.
  • If anyone tells you being subtle is more effective than being straightforward, you know for sure they aren’t living in the real world of fundraising.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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