How to critique effectively

Too often, when people critique fundraising messages, they talk in the first person. They make it seem as if the critiquer is a donor telling her story of her interactions with the piece and why it did or didn’t work. These critiques are full of phrases like these:

  • I don’t like it.
  • That confuses me.
  • I feel good about that.

This is the wrong way to critique. Saying I wouldn’t respond is useless information.

Nobody should care one bit how you or I react to a fundraising message. It’s not important what you like and dislike — it’s how donors respond in real-life situations. And even when we know how donors responded, we don’t know why they did what they did. We only know what they did.

So when you make a first-person critique, you are claiming you know things you can’t possibly know, using information that can’t possibly be relevant. You give people the false impression you’re telling them something true.

Chances are, when you use the first-person voice to make a critique, you’re misleading yourself, as well as those you’re talking to.

Sometimes first-person critiques are in fact solid critiques based on known response facts about what donors did. They’re merely using first person to dramatize the situation.

Even then, the first-person voice is misleading. It makes people think they need to reach you, when they should be striving to reach donors.

When you critique a fundraising message, be very clear about what you really know and what you’re just hypothesizing. Use the third person (he or she), and don’t describe how donors felt, but what they did.

That’s how you’ll get closer to wisdom, truth, and success.

(This post first appeared on October 21, 2011)


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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.