Why does everyone think they’re a writer?

by guest blogger Charlie Hulme (@charlieartful) Creative Director at Pell & Bales, specialist storyteller, proud fundraiser.

Too many cooks spoil the broth, but at least they’re cooks. What would it taste like if people who weren’t cooks got involved? The same way far too many non-profit appeals read: awful.

Fundraisers have access to the most emotionally compelling material on the face of the earth. So why did a recent study of more than 2,000 online and direct mail fundraising documents conclude the way we communicate is “…overly formal, cold, detached, and abstract”? Are our copywriters that bad?

Okay, we all know of some bad copywriters, but they’re not the real culprits. The problem isn’t the writing; it’s the editing.

Once fundraising copy is produced it’s sent round many different departments, each having different objectives. Each reads from their own angle, making changes from their perspective. There’s no longer anyone looking at the piece as a whole.

By this stage the copywriter (the only one in the chain that’s a professional writer) is on to the next project and out of the loop. From here on in the writing is done by people who aren’t writers, and signed off by a department head who isn’t an editor. A piece that started out as a simple, impassioned story with a clear call to action ends up as a mangled wreck of brand words, statistics, and jargon. Internally everyone’s delighted that the piece is “on message” — meanwhile your audience has no idea what your message is.

As Jeff says fundraising is both a number-driven science and a heart-driven art. But it’s rare to find someone that’s mastered both; therefore each must support the other. Assuming your “science” is sound you need a simple checklist to make sure the “art” isn’t lost:


  • Does this make sense to anyone who doesn’t work here? (Pretty easy to check this one!)
  • Is it clear what we’re asking people to do and why?
  • Have we shown our audience what they have done/could do?
  • Are we speaking to our audience’s moral identity or simply imposing our own?

It’s just plain immoral to produce copy that “works” for your organization if it won’t work for your 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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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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