The Reason You Shouldn’t Like Your Donor Message

Denise McMahan is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub, and is the founder and publisher of where nonprofit leaders devour Page to Practice™ book summaries, author interviews and sticky applications from the must-read books they recommend.

The donor relationship equity built over the lifetime of an organization should not be taken lightly. Author Jeff Brooks encourages you to apply his proven strategies for raising more money and to avoid jarring tactics that jeopardize donor relationships.

One of the passages we liked best in Brooks’ latest book, A Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, was titled “Self-centric fundraising.”

Simply put, if you like your message, your donor won’t. Read on to find out why.

Self-Centric Fundraising

If you like your fundraising message, asserts Brooks, it will not appeal to your donors. Even if your donors say they like it, it will not compel them to give in real life.

“Everyone’s conscious opinions about fundraising are automatically wrong… Everyone hates the stuff that works best,” he writes.

This happens because when you practice self-centric fundraising, or what appeals to you as the fundraiser, you lose the emotion. That’s because your initial emotional connection to the cause has become more sophisticated and educated as you have worked more and more for the nonprofit.

For example, you may want to talk about global hunger as “food insecurity” after working in the field. A donor would not understand this term. In addition, you don’t focus on the donors because you are proud of your organization’s work and want to detail its merits.

Donors, however, want to be part of the equation. Finally, “your copy reads like inter-office memos.” Formal, professional and cold communication does not motivate donors to act. In this kind of copy, you focus on facts: “Please consider supporting the 124 children in our hospital,” instead of a compelling, emotional story about a 6-year-old girl talking about her good-luck bear in her fight against cancer.

In order to avoid these self-centric messages, turn off your personal likes and dislikes in favor of what has worked with donors before, either in your organization or at others. Ask if it is emotional, clear and simple, rather than if you like it or not.

In our interview with Brooks, we asked more about what donors want to hear:

CausePlanet: What do you think is the best training fundraisers can receive? They need to be fluent, smooth writers but also need simplicity and an intuition about what donors want to hear.

Brooks: The best possible training is an experienced mentor—someone who knows fundraising inside and out and will go over your work in detail and show you what needs to be done. Read quality books about fundraising. There are a lot of them, and the folks at CausePlanet can help you find the right ones. Also, read a few of the blogs.  There are a lot of them, many of them superb sources of information. Find a blog you like, then add a few more from that blog’s blogroll. Finally, get to know other professionals and talk about stuff. Get involved in your local AFP, and/or go to one of the national conventions. Knowing and talking with other professionals really makes a positive difference.

CausePlanet: What in your research makes fundraisers lose money more than anything?

Brooks: Failing to engage with donors. Asking donors to “stand with us” rather than give them specific actions they can take. Writing in the language and about things that organizational insiders care about, rather than what motivates the donors. Using images that make insiders feel good instead of those that reach donors. Using abstractions and wordplay instead of clear, plain, powerful emotional messaging. Bragging about the organization and its programs instead of making it about the donors.

Read more about this book in our Page to Practice summary and other related titles:
The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications: Real-World Field-Tested Strategies for Raising More Money
The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving
Seeing Through A Donor’s Eyes
How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money
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