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Don't "blandify" your communications, be bold

Posted By Denise McMahan, CausePlanet, Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I read a blog post today called "Why Steve Jobs and I Hate Charity” by one of our featured authors, Joe Waters, who has generated a lot of mixed responses with this post, some even angry. I can't help but be happy for him. Call me crazy, but this month I have author Tom Ahern backing me up on this one. We're currently featuring his new book, How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money at CausePlanet.

"Content that interests your reader is mandatory,” says Ahern. He says we should ask if our message is bold and passionate. (Not bland, predictable or boring.) I would say Joe Water's post meets these requirements on all counts.

One of Tom Ahern's chapters in particular had me jumping out of my seat because it's so rarely discussed, much less overcome in the workplace. The chapter is called "On the delicate subject of committee and board approvals.” Tom's remarks in this chapter further support the priority we must all put on preserving communications that are bold, controversial and surprising. Tom argues that your board and committee's instincts and good intentions aren't enough. Effective communications are, in Ahern's opinion, 99 percent science and one percent art. You are a professional. You've done the research and understand what makes communications effective. Committees tend to "blandify” the piece and scrub away the bold, the controversial and the crazy surprises you've worked hard to incorporate into your piece, says Ahern.

I was so enthusiastic about this opinion after having survived numerous direct mail pieces written by committee over the years that I asked more about the subject in our interview and here's what Tom had to say:

CP: We love chapter eight about how to mitigate the influence of committee or board approval on the written appeal. How liberating! Would you say the same rules apply for management?

TA: There are two kinds of bosses: those who trust their employees and those who don't. The trusting boss says to the fundraiser, "Look, this is your area of expertise. And it's your neck on the line. Do what you think is best." If that's not your kind of boss, start looking for a new job.

Tom explains his book that there are seven ways you can guarantee poor results. I would argue that number seven needs to added as I've done below. Then again, he did dedicate an entire chapter to the subject.

1. You don't target your audience narrowly enough: You must sharpen your message by grouping your constituency by donors (at least two gifts), prospects (shown some interest or lapsed donors) and suspects (might yield a gift but show no proof yet of interest). The second layer of grouping is segmentation by demographics (age, sex, income, educational level, number of children or zip code) and psychographics or "lifestyle traits” (values, beliefs, attitudes and interests).

2. You don't know what your BIG message is: Choose one message for each target audience and beat that message to death for a few years. That's how you get results, says Ahern.

3. You don't repeat your messages often enough: Marketers cite the "rule of seven,” which means you must bring the same message to a target audience at least seven times in an 18-month period in order for that message to penetrate.

4. You don't have real goals: Every goal should be concrete, measurable, achievable and worth doing.

5. You think "bland” is a safe choice: You have to be BOLD to capture a person's attention in today's hyperactive messaging environment. Bold always outsells bland.

6. You have unreasonable expectations: You hope for blockbusters. Instead, have patience with the slow trickle of interest. It will soon amount to a river of support, says Ahern.

7. You use a committee and board approval process: Your board or committee's instincts and good intentions aren't enough. Effective fundraising communications are, in Ahern's opinion, 99 percent science and one percent art. Professionals on staff have done the research and understand what makes a communications piece effective. Committees tend to feed each other's doubts; they "blandify” the piece and scrub away the bold, the controversial and the crazy surprises you've worked hard to incorporate. (See # 5.)

Thanks, Joe, for the great post and keep your readers guessing. You have Tom and me in your court. Visit http://www.selfishgiving.com/ for more posts.

by Denise McMahan

Don't forget to register for Joe Water's upcoming webinar hosted by CausePlanet, "Establish, grow and deepen your business partnerships” on Thursday, September 29, 4 p.m. Eastern. LANO members get a 20% discount. Visit www.causeplanet.org/lanowebinar

A portion of this blog post was excerpted from a Page to Practice book summary at CausePlanet.org. LANO members can subscribe to our summary library with a 20 percent discount—only $7.95 per month. Visit www.causeplanet.org/lano for more information.

For more information about Tom Ahern's book and more expert advice, visit www.aherncomm.com. You can also research more books published by Emerson & Church Publishing at www.contributionsmagazine.com

Tags:  direct mail  fundraising  newsletters 

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