Construct Choice In Fundraising Solicitations

September 15, 2015       The NonProfit Times      

Read closely, because…

Let’s stop there momentarily, because those four words (“Says who? Says me”), deceptive in their simplicity, encapsulate the core of dependable, workable, effective fundraising.


We’re about to explore examples of how substitutions so tiny the typical reader doesn’t single them out can skew the reaction to the message that follows.

It’s easy enough to test. Suppose, instead of “Says who? Says me.” we have “Says who? I do.” Or, suppose the heading had been “Successful Fundraising.” Would either of those improve or suppress your anticipation at what you expect to read?
It’s a mild swerve, but it’s a swerve. More effective? Less effective? No difference? The ability to construct a choice is why we exist and why no computer can replace the human brain, assuming the writer has one in operative condition.
(It was Yogi Berra, wasn’t it, who gave us the ultimate comment on choices: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”) Every sentence of every paragraph gives us choices.

Example: Here are three ways of saying the same thing:
* Many choices slide past us;
* We let many choices slide past us; and,
* We let many choices slide past us without a glance.

If we have space to fill or need word-expansion to guarantee comprehension, we can blow up this rhetorical balloon: We’re up to our eyeballs in choices, and we let many slide past us without a glance because we’re wrapped inside our own experiential background.

The same email might begin, “Here’s information you should have” … or “I want to make a deal with you.” Which will bring greater response?

You know the answer to that one. This is the middle of the second decade of the 21st century and we’re in the middle of an information-glut. We’re glutted, swamped with information. The nugget that used to demand half a day picking through sources at the library now takes half a second — a “click” on Google.
From the first word onward, choices exist. You’re a professional communicator, and you won’t settle for a mere percentage of what maximized word impact might claim.

So even for what many fundraising writers would slide past as a throwaway, we make our choice, based on what effect we want to generate. Example:
Rocky road ahead.
Better look out. Rocky Road ahead.
Look out: rocky road ahead.
Look out! Rocky road ahead.
Yikes! Rocky road ahead!

This isn’t casual. At least, it shouldn’t be casual. That’s why we lay claim to the adjective “professional” before the noun “fundraiser.” That’s why two writers, using identical factual cores, will write descriptions that either snuggle into the reader’s own receptivity or just knock at the intellectual gate less effectively or even vainly: “Let me in. Please?”

Rapport + relevance = donation

As is true of any competitive situation, the jackals always are snapping at your heels. Being able to project both rapport and relevance is what separates the genuine wordsmith from all those journeyman-writers clamoring vainly at our gate.

Every copywriter who appends the adjective “professional” to his or her claim — “professional copywriter” — should take their best shot, not just sentence by sentence but word by word, while fully aware that a key choice is whether the strings of words should have the recipient’s had nodding. That nod isn’t just in agreement with the concept but in agreement coupled with enthusiasm.

Your talent is wasted or maybe nonexistent if you don’t see the difference your word-excretions, controlled or uncontrolled, can cause:
How disappointing this development is;
Imagine how disappointing this development is;
You can imagine how disappointing this development is;
You can imagine how disappointing this development is for us;
You can’t imagine how disappointing this development is for us;
Disappointed? So are we;
Disappointed? So am I; and,
Disappointed? So am I. But….

Stay in command, positively or negatively. The combination of rapport and relevance can be the mighty difference between generating an ally and generating a critic.

Let’s end this pinpointing by relating it to the competitive core of fundraising. We think professionally, not just of how we transmit “information” we want to highlight, but as how we present the apparent nugget we want the other party wants to regard as shared. Shared? We determine what both sides are sharing — attitude hidden in the rafters of our rhetorical skyscraper. That’s the not-so-easy but oh-so-definite gulf lifting us hyper-professonal communicators to a transactional height others can only admire from a distance.

So, what are we transmitting? Is it unprocessed information or neatly prepared gourmet wording?

There we are. We implement, not just admire, the value these suggestions you’ve just read can be. What? You still have questions? Quick, quick, re-read this column … right now.
Herschell Gordon Lewis is president of Lewis Enterprises, a Florida-based creative and consulting service. He is the author of 32 books, including “On the Art of Writing Copy” (now in its fourth edition) and “Hot Appeals or Burnt Offerings.” He was elected to the Direct Marketing Association’s Hall of Fame. His email is