This post is dedicated to a fellow fundraiser – I was commiserating with this person over the issues outlined below. You know who you are!
Fundraising copywriting is one of those professions that everyone thinks they can do better than the person trained in fundraising copywriting.
I’ve been writing fundraising copy for long enough to now need training on how not to do eye rolls when I get ill-informed feedback on our work. (Note I said ill-informed feedback – I welcome feedback that corrects factual errors or makes the creative stronger.)
Seasoned fundraisers know the type of thing I mean.
“I don’t like the emotion/ begging/ asking.”
“It’s not in line with our brand.”
“It doesn’t sound like me.”
It’s exasperating because I don’t just produce fundraising copy out of some mythical creative ether. I’ve studied direct response copywriting techniques. I’ve invested in fundraising training and professional development. I’ve been involved in testing campaigns. Every year, I attend conferences and read books to make me better at what I do.
And yet, I get questioned all the time by people who know nothing or very little about fundraising. When trying to work through these discussions, I always think no other professional has to undergo the kind of arguments and scrutiny that fundraisers do.
For example, if I was a heart surgeon, I’m sure I’d never get this kind of push back.
Nobody tells a heart surgeon how to do their job.
SCENARIO 1 – LOOKING PRETTY
When you need open heart surgery, no patient says, “Excuse me, can you make the incision one inch to the left so it will look prettier?”
Yet when writing and designing fundraising materials, we get told to produce work that looks pretty… rather than pieces that drive the audience to take an action, which is to donate. Yes, we actually have to ask for money, not just have pretty images against a shaded background.
What matters most… a heart surgery scar that looks prettier or saving a life? What matters most… a fundraising pack that looks pretty or is actually raising funds?
SCENARIO 2 – CEO INTERFERENCE
If a patient requires open heart surgery, the CEO of the hospital doesn’t argue with the surgeon over what is best practice in cardiac surgical techniques.
Yet say we produce a good pack that we know is likely to perform well, using all the tried and tested fundraising and direct response tactics we know. The CEO jumps in and argues over proven best practice fundraising techniques. Because he doesn’t like or is uncomfortable with professional fundraising.
So even though the surgeon is cutting open someone’s chest – a very uncomfortable procedure – he doesn’t get questioned when he applies his expertise. He can even warn the patient there’s a 40% chance of dying during the operation… and he won’t get blamed if that occurs.
But a fundraiser gets questioned over everything that feels uncomfortable when he applies his expertise. The fundraiser can even warn the client there’s a high probability of the campaign failing with the changes the CEO wants… and then still cop the blame when the appeal bombs.
SCENARIO 3 – BRAND ISSUES
When open heart surgery is about to begin, the communications manager doesn’t enter the operating theatre and insist the gowns and masks be altered to the hospital’s brand colours.
Yet when producing a fundraising pack, we get the brand police who want the text and creative to conform to certain colours, font choices and sizes – even if it makes the copy unreadable, unworkable and ineffective at raising funds.
What matters most… that surgical theatre wear conforms to brand colours… or that it’s sterile and protects patients from infection? What matters most… a fundraising pack that conforms to brand guidelines… or that uses large, clear font in colours that make it readable so donors understand what you’re asking them to do?
All this to urge charities to let fundraisers do their jobs! Too many charities want the results of professional fundraising ie. higher revenue and a loyal donor base but cripple their fundraisers’ ability to produce those results.