Fundraising Copywriting that Builds Donor Identity
Thread Strategies Director Holly Richardson recently completed the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy’s Certificate in Fundraising Copywriting. In this Spotlight on our Spool, Holly reflects on a new framework for writing persuasively to supporters.
When you sit down to write, rather than asking, “What will make people give to us?” you should ask, “What are people saying about themselves when they give to us?”
Thread: What was this certification course and why did you want to take it?
Holly: Tom Ahern is an expert in fundraising copywriting, and I learned about the course from his newsletter. The thrust of the course was to apply research from the nascent field of philanthropic psychology – essentially, how people bolster or affirm their own sense of identity through giving – to copywriting for development. Over the four weeks of learning, the course offered a novel framework for how to write copy that inspires stronger giving by speaking directly to who donors want to be when they donate.
A proud literature and linguistics geek, writing has always been my favorite part of development. I enjoy putting to work my innate interest in language and writing for real-world action and impact through our partners. So when I learned of this course, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help our partners by sharpening my pencil with Tom Ahern as an editor (and yes, he really did edit every assignment!).
Thread: What new insights about fundraising copywriting can you share with us?
Holly: The central insight I learned from the course is that identity matters much more than action.
Most conventional wisdom about fundraising copywriting is that you should focus on the donor’s actions; what they can do right now to make a difference. Copywriting with a philanthropic psychology lens on, your leverage point becomes the reader’s identity: who they are or who they want to be by supporting your nonprofit.
In other words, when you sit down to write, rather than asking, “What will make people give to us?” you should ask, “What are people saying about themselves when they give to us?”
Stories are still the crux of good fundraising copywriting. Yet with this perspective as your framework, you become more intentional about selecting stories that speak to the specific character traits you want your readers to identify with: loyal, artistic, savvy, determined, outdoorsy, resilient, etc. You open up a world of associations beyond “kind” and “generous.”
Thread: What’s another good piece of advice you can share?
Holly: I’ve been moving in this direction in my own writing style, and so it was affirming to have the course validate it: A VERY short paragraph is so much more powerful than a big, fat paragraph.
Advice about preserving ample white space in your formatting has been around for awhile. Yet this is really easy guidance to ignore, especially when your nonprofit has so much information it wants to share.
And we see it all time: Margins get tighter. Fonts go smaller. Everything gets condensed.
Yet there’s truly nothing worse you can do than to pack in your writing. Even your most loyal and enthusiastic supporters don’t want to read a big, meaty paragraph. They want something they can read quickly and easily. They want to skim.
So, while it’s harder to write very short paragraphs, literally a sentence or two, it makes for a more powerful and persuasive letter. You invite your donor to actually read the whole letter, rather than skip those dense paragraphs.
Less is so much more.
Thread: How has this course changed how you write?
Holly: I’ll admit that at first it scrambled my brain a little bit as I tried to integrate all this new learning with the tried and true anchors of my fundraising writing skills.
Once I sorted myself out, the biggest change to my writing process has been that I think about writing as community building. Even when I’m writing a direct mail letter that is all about the ask, I take it as an opportunity for the reader to feel better about who they are and what this life can be.
So I’m absolutely spending more time up front identifying what I want the reader to think and feel. I already know what I want them to do – donate – and so I’m committing more intention to tapping into the human experience.
It’s hard, and it’s good.