Herschell Gordon Lewis: Inspiration to fundraisers

by guest blogger George Crankovic, Senior Writer at TrueSense Marketing he blogs at The Clued-in Copywriter.

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Herschell Gordon Lewis passed away recently.

Most people knew him as the “Godfather of Gore.”

Lewis achieved cult status as the creator of such over-the-top horror films as “Blood Feast,” “A Taste of Blood,” “She Devils on Wheels,” and “Two Thousand Maniacs.” In fact, he pioneered the genre of horror known as the splatter film. His movies are unapologetic festivals of campy violence.

He gained the same cult status in another area as well. Lewis will be forever remembered as a master of direct-response copywriting. For those of us who happen to love the work and craft of copywriting, Lewis was an inspiring and entertaining teacher, as well as a consummate practitioner.

In his many seminars, webinars, articles, and books, Lewis unstintingly shared his lessons and insights about copywriting and marketing for business.

But Lewis was equally insightful when he turned his attention to copywriting for fundraising — which, fortunately for us, he did often.

Out of the countless ideas he shared about writing good fundraising copy, these three stand out for me:

  • It’s about “you,” the donor — not about “us,” the organization. Building the fundraising message around what the individual — the donor — needs and wants is stronger in every way than building it around what the organization needs or wants. This attitude is essential for effective communication in the 21st century. It’s the essence of donor-focused fundraising.
  • Use the motivators — fear, exclusivity, greed, guilt, and need for approval — but use them skillfully. Often, a mere suggestion is all that it takes. As Lewis explained and demonstrated, these motivators are powerful. To be effective, though, they have to be wielded like an orchestra conductor’s baton not a baseball bat.
  • The best fundraising is episodic — it presents anecdotes, narratives, and events to donors. Instead of falling back on statistics to make the case, it’s more powerful to describe the events that demonstrate the need and how the donor can make a difference. This makes both the problem and the solution real for donors, not theoretical.

There’s much, much more.

Lewis thought deeply about the nature of communication and the art of persuasion, and even more important, he showed us how and why to be better at them.

If you’re a student of copywriting, then you count Lewis, along with other copy legends like John Caples and David Ogilvy, as one of your teachers. Or at least you should.


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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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