I don’t know why, but I continue to be surprised at major nonprofits – that have the means to do it right – mailing out solicitations that miss.
We got one the other day, from a large hospital in our state. I’ll admit, I opened it with some curiosity. I was hoping I might see something swipe-worthy. I didn’t.
Remember when I wrote about “that guy”? Well, he made an appearance here. The letter is almost all about the organization. Bullet after bullet about how great they are.
First, and most unforgivable, the donor disappears except when asked to give. There are 9 different bullet points throughout the two-page letter. And every one of them tells me about another great feature of the hospital. It’s telling that in none of these statements is the word “you” used. None!
The hospital or some pronoun referring to the hospital is used nearly 30 times in the 47-line letter. “You” or some variation of it, is used 17.
Benefits, not features
As Tom Ahern would charge us, they should have written about benefits, not features. What do I mean? Every one of those bullet points is a feature – a statement of fact. Turn them around – show me what’s in it for me. Then it becomes a benefit.
So instead of:
We are the first and only hospital in Connecticut to be designated a Level 1 adult and pediatric trauma facility.
You can feel secure in case of an emergency. As the first and only Level 1 adult and pediatric trauma facility, we’re there for you. And that’s possible because of caring people like you.
With all that selling, what do you want from me?
In spite of the fast-talking hard-sell, the ask is rather buried. They do get one in right away, in the second paragraph. That’s good. And it asks for a specific range of gift. ($15, $25 or $50.) But that’s the last specific ask in the letter.
Toward the end of the letter, they even manage to make the ask all about them:
We invite you to partner with us in providing this care. Show your support for advanced health care in our community and be part of our team.
That reads a bit too much like the royal we to me. (How nice of you – you’ll allow me to send you money!)
The softer asks would probably have been fine if they hadn’t been buried under the deluge of bragging. The reader really has to work to get through it all. If your reader’s only goal is to learn “what concerns me” – and it is – then you have to make it easy for them to do just that.
Where’s the emotion? Don’t I get a story?
I doubt there’s a person alive today who doesn’t expect to need a hospital at some time in the future. The desire to keep or regain our health is a powerful motivator. The fear of being without good care is also a great emotional trigger.
They never really pull that trigger, though. Instead, they make an intellectual argument – if they provide top-notch care, then I should want to support them. They never make it personal. They never use emotion. Fear, salvation, even guilt (because other people’s support makes the hospital’s good care possible) would all work well.
They spend a couple of bullet points on children’s care. I’m not sure what would be easier to make emotional than great care for a child in need!
In the same way, lists of “why we’re great” will never be as satisfying as one good story. Tell me about a near-death experience that was turned around because of your expertise. Talk about a relieved parent. Even about a patient who could have been helped, had they known to turn to you.
Make me feel something!
Make it easy to read if you want it to be read.
Formatting is the easiest thing to fix. Let’s start with the good stuff. They do use a serif font, and it’s large enough to read easily. That’s good.
They indent. Also good. It tests at a 6th-grade reading level. They use short paragraphs. So far, good!
They use bullets. Bullets are great – an easy way to read a lot of information. But. They used too many. Tried too hard to stuff too many points into this appeal. The reader wants to know “we’re a great hospital. So if you ever need us, you’re in good shape. But staying that way depends on you.”
Bold, underlined and italics. Oh dear. Great things to use – carefully. Nearly 1/3 of this letter is in bold-faced type. Some type is also underlined. That’s way too much. As with seasoning, more is not always better.
Use bold or underlining to guide the reader through the most important points of the letter. And if you can’t decide what’s most important, how do you expect the reader to do that? As Jonathon Grapsas says, what’s the SMIT – the single most important thing?
- Decide what the SMIT is.
- Focus on your donor and her concerns.
- Use emotion!
- Connect with a story instead of a long list of bullets.
- Sell benefits, not features.
- Format the letter for easy reading.
- Ask for a reason – one that appeals to the donor.
One final note: my uncle received treatment at this hospital before he passed away last year. A friend is currently under treatment there. A more donor-focused appeal might have fallen on willing ears.
Instead, I’m writing this.
Photo credit: Doctor’s Fees by 401(K) 2013