Does your fundraising copy make you sound like an idiot?

The tone of your copy matters. Here’s an email test, reported at MarketingExperiments, that looked at the power of tone: Email Copywriting: How a change in tone increased lead inquiry by 349%.

The test was in an email designed to generate leads for a software package — a high-end purchase with a lot of moving parts and higher-than-normal resistance from customers. Think major donor capital campaign.

Here’s the opening of the control email:

Dear [Name],

You’re just one step away from getting FREE access to RegOnline, our award winning Event Registration and Management Software. Quickly man an event website, try our event marketing tools, build a registration form template or even generate custom name badges.

Pretty standard sales language. Nothing really wrong with it. It has that breezy, somewhat stilted approach that we’re all so used to hearing when someone’s trying to sell something.

Here’s the opening of the test:

Hi [Firstname],

I noticed that you started the process of getting free access to RegOnline but weren’t able to finish. Are you concerned about giving out your phone number? Are you worried about high pressure sales tactics or mandatory contracts?

Right from the top, it has a more colloquial, normal-human tone. It talks to the reader about things they care about and worry about. It doesn’t pile on the sales points. In fact, the test had very few sales points. It sounds like a normal person talking to another person about their concerns.

Results: the test generated a 349% increase in lead inquiry rate. You don’t see improvements that big every day.

Fundraisers are prone to slipping into sales jargon as much as sales people. And it costs us.

Here’s how to write like a normal person: Read your stuff out loud. Imagine you’re saying what you read to someone you know. If your copy is like that control copy above, the person you’re imagining would be tempted to punch you and in the nose, or run away. Why are you talking like that? You sound like you’re not a real person!

Keep revising until your copy sounds (and literal sound is important) like something you’d really say to a real person.


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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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About the blogger

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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