There are some common words or phrases that I see in too many appeals (and annual reports or even thank you letters) that set my teeth on edge.
You’ll find me, almost daily, sorting my mail and shaking my head.
So here, for your amusement or education, are a few.
“Give back to our organization”
Nope. Nope. Nope.
A donor never ever owes you anything. Do not let your righteous zeal for your mission cloud the basic fact that a donation is a freely given gift – not a debt paid.
The donor may indeed feel indebted. Your hospice might have provided wonderful care at an awful time. Your university may have given the donor an amazing aid package. You might be saving lives – including that of someone the donor is close to.
That’s a great place to start or continue a relationship. You’re already close to her heart.
But never give in to “they owe us”. That’s death to fundraising. That’s not relationship building. It’s not donor-focused. And it’s just… obnoxious.
Look, guilt is an effective emotion. It can move people to give. But use it for problems in the world. Use it to show the donor what she could be doing if she’d just act. Kind people feel an emotional obligation toward others.
That’s a whole lot less effective when you try to obligate someone to an organization.
Do you feel warm and fuzzy when someone insists you owe them a favor?
Potential pitfall: resentment
“Strive to” “Work to” “Try to”
Seriously, just do it.
Donors don’t give because you try so hard. They give because you accomplish something.
And if what you’re doing will take a long time? Break it down into steps. (Make sure you ARE actually taking steps toward the goal!)
Then bring your donors along, step by step.
It’s so easy to get lost in our process rather than our achievement.
Most donors don’t care that much about HOW we do it. They want to know IF we do it.
Potential pitfall: distrust
The royal we
I’ve written about this before. But it happens so often I’m amazed.
By the royal we, I mean using “we” to refer to your organization, not when it means your organization and the donor working together.
The first distances the donor. Is that really what you want to do? You see this in appeals that celebrate the great work of the organization, the brave staff, the wise board… and forget all about the donor until the ask. Bad idea.
The second, though, can be powerful, because it connects the donor to your organization and to your work. Now your donor is the focus again – working with you to achieve something great. That’s powerful.
Potential pitfall: distance
“Help us meet our annual fundraising goal!”
I can’t believe anyone thinks this will motivate a donor.
Your budget goals are your problem. Your fundraising goals, even more so. They’re not interesting outside your office. They’re also not your donor’s problem.
Do you want your donor to think about budgets? His budget? That’s a surefire way to get a “no” answer. That’s the road to scarcity and fear.
Instead, talk about WHY you are raising the money in the first place. (And it’s not to meet your goals, or please stop now.) What will funding accomplish? What will a lack of funding mean?
Talk about what you will do with the donor’s money. Talk about what could happen without enough money.
Your fundraising goals and budgets are not why someone gives. Giving isn’t about money. It’s about empathy, kindness, justice.
Potential pitfall: scarcity
Insider jargon and acronyms only you understand
This is another situation where there’s a thin line between including donors as insiders and pushing them away.
We all develop shorthand for our work. That’s normal and smart, really. Who needs to say the long name of that local foundation when we all know the shorthand initials?
But though they are partners in our work, donors usually aren’t in the office with us. Unless the shorthand is commonly used out there in the real world, you shouldn’t use it when writing to your donors.
And jargon is even trickier. Inside the office, you may use words and phrases that come from a place of empathy. They may also come from a social worker. “Under-resourced”, “experiencing homelessness”, “food insecure” are all well-meaning, correct and created to buffer people in bad situations from embarrassment. But in the outside world, we don’t talk that way. Donors don’t talk that way.
If a donor has to stop when reading to puzzle something out, you’ve probably already lost him. Use simple language instead. With loads of empathy and dignity.
Chances are, the person you’re referring to doesn’t think of herself as “food insecure” – she thinks, “I don’t have enough good food for my kids.” She won’t tell you she’s “under-resourced”, she’ll say she’s broke.
Best solution? Use the words of the people you’re helping. Let them tell their stories in their own words.
Potential pitfall: confusion
Here’s the bottom line
All these mistakes happen because the writer is taking a staff person’s point of view – or an insider’s. If your focus is on selling the organization, you’re off target.
You have to establish trust in the organization, that’s true. You do that by doing what you say you will do. And then keeping your donors informed. You also do that by treating donors well. We want to trust the people we like.
But an organizational resume doesn’t move hearts. Bragging doesn’t endear someone to us. A personal appeal – written from one person to another – is far more effective.
Is there technique at work under the surface? You bet. But what the donor reads should be: there’s a problem we think you care about. And you, wonderful donor, you have the power to solve it.
Forget you’re a staffer. Forget you know the organization inside and out.
Think like a donor.
What’s important to you? Why would you want to help? How would helping make you feel?
Your organization isn’t the end. Your organization is a means. You are the vehicle a donor can use to achieve something she wants.
Write to that desire. Applaud it, show how it could be attained. Treat donors as you would like to be treated.
Avoid the pitfalls and head toward success!
Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire at Gratisography