The strange power of “Even if you can’t give now…”

by guest blogger George Crankovic. He blogs at The Clued-in Copywriter.

In order to write fundraising copy that works, it’s a good idea to look at copywriting that sells.

Yes, some of the tips and tactics that work in commercial marketing will also work in fundraising. Here’s one of them.

It’s the idea of giving power over to your donor in order to persuade her to accept what you’re selling.

You see this in commercial marketing all the time. For example, in commercial direct mail letters, there’s often a line of copy something like this: “It’s up to you whether you buy now or not, but here’s why this is such a good deal…”

Why does this work? Well, it’s a pretty basic fact of human psychology that if you want to get somebody to do something, one of the best ways to do it is to make it feel like it’s their idea. The more you do that and the less you seem to be pressuring them, the more likely they are to do what you want them to do. That’s what this simple line of copy does.

And we can use it in fundraising. In the copy for a fundraising appeal, we might say, “It’s up to you whether you give now or not…” because this shifts the decision-making power over to the donor, making it seem like giving is her idea. Which is good for fundraising.

Or, depending on the appeal, we can even vary it a little. Say there’s a bounce-back in the appeal. We could write something like: “Even if you can’t give a donation right now, sign and return the card anyway…” The same principle is at work. We’re shifting the decision-making power to the donor, taking the pressure off, and making it seem like giving is the donor’s idea.

Plus, with this approach, we’re adding in a small measure of guilt at the prospect of not giving. And, a line like this even subtly suggests that the donor might not be financially able to give, and that in itself could be a hot button for many donors.

But even beyond all that, let’s say the donor takes us up on our offer to return the card without giving a gift. Instead of no response at all, we’ve gotten the donor to respond by returning the card. And that means this donor will be far more likely to give a donation the next time she receives an appeal.

Now, maybe all this seems well and good, but you’re wondering whether this kind of approach gives the donor an “out” and might discourage donations. After all, we are saying it’s okay not to give.

For one thing, donors aren’t lab mice that we can force through a maze until they arrive at the place where they give a donation. Donors who lose interest just toss the appeal. So, it would really be overstating our influence to suggest that fundraisers would even have the power to let donors off the hook. We can’t really get them on the hook in the first place!

And even more important, giving the power over to the donor is what donor-centric fundraising is all about. It doesn’t benefit us to seem like we’re giving donors the hard sell and twisting their arms. The power can and should rest with donors. Acknowledging that simple and obvious fact is unlikely to turn donors off. In fact, it can only help to win more of them over.


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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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