Good writing vs good fundraising

I almost washed out of fundraising many years ago because I was too good for it.

Well, that’s how it felt at the time.

I was actually not good enough.

I was unaware.

Egocentric.

Inflexible.

I was a writer.

I had Good Style, as taught by English professors.

I was proud of my writing. My professors told me it was good. I worked hard to make it better.

But when I got a professional writing gig in fundraising, things fell apart for me. It seemed like the better my writing was, the worse it did at raising funds.

It took a while to figure it out: “Good Style” (as taught in universities) is not at all good for fundraising. Good Style is not a universal truth, but a specific and localized set of conventions.

That can be hard to believe — and harder to embrace. Especially if you’re someone who excels at standard Good Style.

Well, fellow devotees of Good Style, I have more bad news for you: this time from The Agitator, at Removing and Adding Words to Make Copy.

It’s about The Copy Optimizer, which is a robot with a red pen that helps you write better fundraising copy. (I realize that’s not literally what it is, but I like to imagine it that way.) The robot gives your English professors even more reasons to hate your fundraising copy. Here are just a few:

Optimizer says: All pronouns are good.

Good Style says: Arrgh! Avoid pronouns when possible. Especially 2nd person — you!

Optimizer says: Use private verbs. (They reveal what the writer is thinking and feeling. Examples: felt, heard, believed, wanted, thought)

Good Style says: Not so much. Reveal inner motivation with outer action.

Optimizer says: Use possibility modals (these include can, may, should, etc.)

Good Style says: Avoid!

Optimizer says: Use emphatics. (Just, really, most, more, for sure)

Good Style says: Nnnnooooo! That’s the worst thing ever!

Here’s the point: Fundraising calls for its own version of Good Style that’s different from what most of us have learned.

If you want to get the best possible results in fundraising, you need to use Good Fundraising Style. It’s learnable (just like standard Good Style), and it works. We know it works because we’ve been watching the numbers and testing for decades.

If you’re good at standard Good Style, congratulations! You can write some cool things.

But a really good writer is someone who uses the right style for the occasion. Not someone who applies “Good Style” no matter the context.


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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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