Why “clever” fundraising doesn’t work

Let’s take a look at two headlines: One “clever,” the other intelligent.

Clever headline

Cleverheadline

This headline is for an ad that ran in publications in India after a deadly cyclone. It’s from an Indian relief organization raising funds within India.

Like so many clever headlines, it takes an indirect approach to its subject. It doesn’t address the reader with the tragedy at hand and give her a good reason to respond. It addresses a side issue — the low response to the cyclone.

It also exhibits another common approach of clever headlines: the old “nobody cares about our cause” trope, which has to be one of the most involvement-killing ideas in all fundraising. When your message is “nobody cares about this,” you’re just giving readers permission not to care about it. It’s very effective at that.

The clever headline writer never gets outside his own head. To him the lack of donor response is the real problem. To everyone else, the destruction caused by the cyclone is the real problem.


Intelligent headline

They-all-laughed copy

This is a classic headline over an old ad for a piano correspondence course.

It tells a small slice of a story — but that slice gives us the whole picture — including the benefit of the product.

This writer isn’t whining about how nobody’s buying his product or taking his issues seriously. He’s not trying to take a roundabout misdirection and trick the reader into doing something.

Think about it: To tell this story — and to create the attention-grabbing headline — the writer had to immerse himself in the mind of an adult who’d wishes he could play the piano. The nagging sense of inferiority. The need for validation. The determination to work hard and make good. Unlike the clever writer above, this writer got way inside his prospects, and speaks to their felt needs.

That’s how you do fundraising. Understand your donor and speak directly to her. Don’t try to show off your cleverness. And please don’t subject readers to your whining.

(This post first appeared on April 15, 2015.)


Comments

4 responses to “Why “clever” fundraising doesn’t work”

  1. It would’ve been better for you to provide a version of a good fundraising headline rather than the classic copywriting ad piece.
    This is actually much easier to do in for profit than non-profit because the investment benefits the investor. It’s harder to sell “hope”.

  2. It would’ve been better for you to provide a version of a good fundraising headline rather than the classic copywriting ad piece.
    This is actually much easier to do in for profit than non-profit because the investment benefits the investor. It’s harder to sell “hope”.

  3. Always make a good headline so you can drive the donors to connect with you. This headline above is one of the things that we should avoid.

  4. Always make a good headline so you can drive the donors to connect with you. This headline above is one of the things that we should avoid.

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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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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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