Why your writer’s voice might be crushing your fundraising

I have some news for nonprofit executive directors (or anyone else who signs fundraising messages) that you may take as very good … or very bad.

Your “voice” does almost nothing to help your fundraising.

In fact, your “voice” — if you insist on close fidelity to it — is probably costing your organization a lot of lost fundraising revenue.

If you’re scratching your head and wondering what I’m talking about and why, that’s okay. Most EDs — like most people — are not much concerned about or aware of their “voice.”

Voice is something writers are very aware of. It’s that combination of word-choice, rhythm, and cadence that identifies the personality of a writer on the page as clearly as the sound of their voice does in person.

It’s what makes Catcher in the Rye

He was one of those guys that think they’re being a pansy if they don’t break around forty of your fingers when they shake hands with you. God, I hate that stuff.

… sound different from the 23rd Psalm…

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Voice makes a difference. You couldn’t express the poetic longing of the Psalms in the voice of Holden Caulfield. (Well, you probably could, and it would be hilarious.)

And that brings me back to fundraising and voice.

When someone insists on tight fidelity to their voice in fundraising messages, they are most likely choosing less response.

That’s because unless that person’s voice is truly unusual, it’s at odds with what works in the writing of fundraising, which includes:

  • Short, simple sentences.
  • Short, simple paragraphs.
  • A lot of repetition. (A lot of repetition.)
  • One obsessive goal; no bunny trails.
  • Colloquial.
  • “You” focus all the time.

There’s more, but you get the picture.

This probably conflicts with 90% of all writers’ voices in some way or another. It’s extremely at odds with my writer’s voice.

But if you want to move the greatest number of people to donate, you’d better choose the conventions of fundraising, even if it messes with your voice.

I’m not saying fundraising itself has one monolithic voice that makes it all the same no matter who’s writing. Fundraising has more of a set of principles for clarity and focus than a required voice of its own. There’s plenty of room for individual voice within good fundraising. The chairman of a university physics department should probably sound different from a street evangelist.

But if either the physics prof or the street preacher is a writer and highly attuned to their own voice — they’ll notice in two seconds flat that the rigors of fundraising are messing with their voice.

The great ones — the ones who believe in their cause and are more interested in getting the job done well than massaging their ego — they let it go.

When you’re writing fundraising — or more likely signing fundraising written by someone else — your job is to raise funds. Not display your voice.

And if you’re writing on behalf of someone else who has a distinct voice, your first job is to raise funds. Allegiance to that voice is secondary.

Fundraising exists to raise funds.


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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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