your donors can’t read

“Your donors can’t read,” isn’t a commentary on your donors’ eyesight, education or IQ. That’s today’s reality. Everyone’s scanning. Your donors don’t have time to read. Even the people who think they’re reading are really scanning.

Your donors get like 100 emails a day (my inbox count was 147 yesterday and I’ve worked hard to move a lot conversations out of email). Statistically we’re exposed to 3 billion* advertising messages a day. Our mailboxes are filled with mail, fliers, magazines and bills. We’re stuffed to overflowing with communication.

Everyone and their dog (literally) have blogs. We’re all texting and tweeting and Facebooking.

Oh and Facebook? The Facebook newsfeed just rolls by like an Amazon River of food photos, vacation updates, cute new babies, angry babies . . . Seriously. Do you really believe anyone is reading?

The best anyone can really do is scan.

This reality leads to these rules:

1. It’s a parade. Just because we should have seen it doesn’t mean we did . . . or if we saw it, we may not have paid much attention to it. Or we may have seen it and wanted to act but got busy. Give us more than one chance. You gotta think frequency.

2. Ignore your English teacher. I know your 7th grade English teacher taught you better (mine was Miss South–if she was alive today, she’d roll over in her grave). But she was grading papers not trying to grab (and keep) people’s attention. Short sentences are OK. Fragments, too. Your English teacher isn’t your donor (or at least not a big segment of your donor file). Don’t write for an English teacher.

3. Visuals help. Design for the scanner.

4. Have a BIG idea or don’t bother. Small ideas will not change the world and more importantly . . . won’t get a hearing and won’t stick.

5. Spend your energy on headlines, photos and planning audience not details. This will make you crazy, but you should spend far more time on the topic, the headline or subject line (or the equivalent) than body copy. Maybe by a factor of 10 to 1. Copy has to be accurate, but really, most people are gonna scan it (if you’re lucky). And, to get people to read all that lovely copy, you have to draw them in. If you don’t pull them in, you’ve wasted your time and effort.

6. Assume people are far too busy to be bothered with your message. Yep. Even your friends are too busy to read what you’re putting out there. So you better grab everyone by the throat any chance you get. Be ruthless. I’m not kidding. If you don’t, you lose. And more tragically, your cause won’t make an impact.

That’s what I think. Keep moving. I know you have things to do.

*I completely made up the 3 billion statistic, but the point is that it’s a bunch however you want to count it.


Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: Steve Thomas)
Find Steve on Instragram: oneicity_st

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

6 thoughts on “your donors can’t read”

  1. Don’t dis the angry baby. **SNICKER**

    So, I agree with all of this, but I would say that ignoring the English teacher isn’t quite accurate. Vocabulary is paramount! I’m fine with sentence fragments. Shoot, my favorite author is a MASTER of the sentence fragment. (William Gibson)

    However, to grab the donor, you need to use vocabulary that will grab their attention, without being sesquipedalian while trying to be perspicuous. You also need to be careful with “buzz words”. Buzz words actually damage credibility, in my opinion. This is part of knowing your audience. What will resonate with the donor? Use that.

  2. You really had me at the 3-billion ad impressions a day number! I knew it was bad….but holy-moley, that’s a lot of competition for my eyeballs. Good to know you made that figure up.

    I know you didn’t make up the part about needed to make our messages to donors more compelling. New media has not only added streams of new content, so much of it is lifeless, perhaps soulless!

    There was a period in the 1960s and 1970s when a great deal of emphasis was placed on having ad messages connect at a gut level with the reader.

    I would suggest that some our “message writers” study the old masters like Bill Bernbach who’s “THINK SMALL” message for Volkswagen gave that little car a very big personality.

    And listen to the the lessons of famed ad writer David Ogilvy, who stated “80 Cents of Your Dollar Should Be Spend on Writing Headlines”.

    Another thing Ogilvy said that echoes Steve Thomas’s comments is “I don’t know the rules of grammar… If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.”

    This is something Steve and his team does really well!

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  4. @Brad — loved your comments. Totally agree, especially in professional settings buzz words are so non-synergistic! . For the point I was trying to make, I’m going to stick with ignoring English teachers, but I understand what you’re saying.
    As always, enjoy your perspective!
    st

  5. @Al — you’re very kind, thank you. And I hadn’t heard those quotes from Ogilvy, I like it. He’s one of my favorites.
    You’re such a wonderful addition to the Tribe, Al. Thanks for throwing more than your 2 cents in.
    Grateful.
    st

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