When a great offer meets weak copy

The most important thing for successful fundraising is the offer — the action you want the donor to take: Save the wetlands, fight cancer, help someone break free from poverty.

Offer is far more important than creative. That is, no matter how great the writing and design, if the offer is boring, irrelevant, or non-existent, it doesn’t really matter. Great creative is just lipstick on a pig. And more lipstick doesn’t solve the problem that you haven’t given the donor something they consider worth doing.

And often, the reverse is true. If you have an amazing offer, you can often “get away with” less-than-great creative.

I want to show you an example of this from a UK charity, Historic Royal Palaces, which has a campaign called Sponsor a Stone.

This campaign gives donors the opportunity to “sponsor” a specific stone in the White Tower, the main building of the Tower of London.

Here’s how it works:

Wallsponorlevels

The donor can literally choose a specific stone in the Tower. I suspect they already had an inventory of every stone in the building for reasons other than fundraising! However it happened, it’s brilliant.

Anyway, they got me! Here’s my stone, chosen in hopes that I will be able to visit it some day:

Mystone

For the right donors, this is a superb fundraising offer: Specific, zeroed in on the cause, and rich with donor feedback — a document that shows “my” stone. I hope they will continue to connect with me about this. I’ll be all ears!

Unfortunately, the creative — specifically, the writing — is badly off point. Here’s the headline on the campaign web page:

WE NEED YOUR HELP
SPONSOR A STONE IN THE WHITE TOWER TO SUPPORT US

It completely misses the reasons donors might want to do this: To help preserve the White Tower. And the bragging rights about “their” stone.

The error continues with the copy:

Historic Royal Palaces is a team of people who love and look after six of the most wonderful palaces in the world, including the Tower of London – the 1,000 year old fortress in the city of London and at the heart of British history. As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, we are facing serious financial challenges which threaten our future and we need your help to support our financial recovery. We are offering a unique opportunity to become a custodian of one of the ancient stones that make up the walls of the White Tower.

We, we, we! It’s all about the organization! This is a common error in fundraising — the organization communicating with seemingly no awareness of the audience.

Donors don’t give to keep your organization going. They give to make the things you do happen. Big difference.

But here’s the thing: It’s really bad fundraising copy, but that doesn’t matter much. Because the offer is so compelling, donors don’t depend on the persuasion of the copy to make a decision. The out-of-tuneness of the message is drowned out by the blaring horns of a powerful fanfare.

I don’t know if the campaign is working or not. I would guess that it is, and if it isn’t, it’s because they’re struggling to find their audience.

But imagine this: What if they didn’t have the power of this offer? What if they just needed revenue to preserve palaces, but without specificity to share. In that case, the writing would be all they had to move people from inaction to action.

And that would not work very well.

So here’s how you succeed in fundraising: Give a lot of thought and creativity to what it is donors can do by donating. When you nail that, is this organization did, you are well on your way to success. Even if you drop the ball when it comes to the words and pictures you use.

I don’t want to give you the impression that you don’t need to think about your creative in fundraising. First, an offer this strong is rare. Second, it’s far better when the writing is as on-target as the offer. That can bring in fence-sitting donors who like the offer but aren’t quite moved to take action.

First things first, though: give your donors something to do that they want to do. And keeping your organization going is not that for most of them.


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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.