Copy Clinic: Communicating Coherently With Donors

Printed material can be used as a means of better connecting donors to a particular cause. Poorly done, however, organizational copy can create precisely the kinds of barriers that it is intended to eliminate.


During “Copy Clinic — Being More Creative in Communications with Supporters” at the recent AFP International Fundraising Conference in Boston, Stephen Pidgeon of Stephen Pidgeon Ltd. in Cheltenham, U.K., urged writers to focus on two things — come up with a concept and identify useful snippets. “If you don’t have a concept, don’t start writing because you’ll write to fill space,” Pidgeon said.


Engaging content can come from people in the thick of an issue — staff, volunteers and beneficiaries. Pidgeon used the example of a U.K. charity that used copy to connect potential donors into the world of a young, disadvantaged child preparing to start the school year. The copy’s beginning focused on the unpleasant smell of the student’s home, placing readers in the thick of the child’s reality.


While you can strive for concepts and snippets, Pidgeon provided attendees with five common copy mistakes capable of disengaging readers:


* Focusing on the organization. Count the number of times “we” is featured in a piece of copy and then count the number of times “you” is used. Peppering stories with “we” can lead to barriers;

* Talking about services. Focusing too much on services provided by your organization fails to draw readers in, Pidgeon said;

* Forgetting that people give to people. Rather than stating “Please give us a donation and we will…” be more direct and write “Your donation will…;”

* Making a poor choice in signatory. Having a CEO sign a piece of copy can get in the way of connecting donors with clients as donors associate a CEO with someone getting paid. Clients or a client’s family member might be used. Organizations should also think outside the box for signatories best capable of connecting with donors; and,

* Just telling a story. Diving into a story without being led in prevents a connection. Readers have learned to ignore stories that do not draw them in, Pidgeon said.