how to destroy your direct mail fundraising

Would you like to know the single most devastating thing you can do for your direct mail fundraising? What one thing will cause an income disaster? What’s the big killer (in a bad use of that word)?

Simple: imagine your audience is you.

Write for yourself. Write your direct mail the way you’d want it.

Write about what you think is most important in your organization.

Write as if everyone was just like you.

All of those will end in disaster (or lower income, which is always disaster in my book).

It’s an easy trap to fall into. But a trap it is. You’re not everyone. And the wonderful men and women who receive any of your marketing or fundraising messages have very different understandings of your nonprofit.

Plus, they are motivated by very different things than you may imagine.

I remember the first time I noticed a P.S. on a fundraising letter, I thought, “no one puts a P.S. on letters.” And I sat there and read the letter closer . . . again. Exactly what the clever strategist wanted me to do (strangely enough I even remember the cause —- it was a donor acquisition piece).

If you write to yourself, you won’t ask for the reader to take action.

You won’t use a teaser, because you don’t like that.

And underlining . . . or incomplete sentences . . . you don’t like those.

Or pesky bold face fonts . . .

Or starting a sentence with a conjunction . . .

All of those strategies (or as a client said to me once: “one person’s strategies are another person’s gimmicks”) have been tested, refined and proven over time to generate response. It’s just the way it is.

Also, if you’re looking to be sure your fundraising doesn’t work, be careful to write about what’s most important to you. Write about your budget and funding the organization’s needs because that’s what’s on your mind.
Be sure and make it clear that they didn’t give enough to supply your budgetary needs. (OK, that one, you’d never do).

Oh and I should say that the only thing worse that “imagining your audience is you” is if you have a boss that is sure they’re just like all of your donors. And you have to write to them. That’s a tough one for sure.

So what do you think? Have any other surefire ways to submarine your fundraising? How do you resist thinking that all your donors are just like you? How have you seen this problem play out? What’s on your mind?

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: J. Scott 2)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

10 thoughts on “how to destroy your direct mail fundraising”

  1. Good points, Steve. You nail something important, without going deep. Your donor letter should use proper grammar. Unfortunately, that’s not how people talk…conversationally. For instance, any letter in which you want the person to take action MUST be in active voice, not passive. I can’t count the number of investment requests I’ve read that used passive voice. So, sure, starting statements with conjunctions is one thing…but tense, voice, mood (to use the greek) is equally as important. When writing, use proper grammar. When talking, be conversational, otherwise you sound arrogant.

  2. Well put Steve. Your first point (imagine your audience is you) reveals the subtle poison to direct mailing efforts. This article is going to be close at side for the rest of the year. And beyond.

  3. @Brad — thanks good comments, as always. Your passive voice comment is perfect, I should have add it. Fundraising/development creative writing is technical writing just like any other specialized genre. And I love your point about how informality in conversation. Perfect.

  4. I have to disagree with Brad on grammar and especially passive voice in fundraising. Good fundraising copy is strong, clear, and colloquial. That sometimes involves using passive voice. And it sometimes means break a school rule to sound more human. Insisting on all active voice is making the very mistake this post is about: projecting your own preferences onto your audience.

  5. @Jeff — glad you dropped by! You know your direct mail and I agree that there are times that passive voice is all that works. And you’re on-point about writing to ourselves. It’s easy to do without even realizing it.
    Thanks for the insightful insights.

  6. Pingback: The Art of Failing at Fundraising Appeals - Nonprofit Hub

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