Fundraising copywriters reflexively reach for adjectives when describing situations. (I know I’m one of them). We sprinkle words like “brutal,” “wonderful,” “terrible,” and “exciting” all over our copy; all of them opinions. Because, after all, a “great program” is better than just a “program,” and a “devastating food shortage” is better than a plain old shortage.

Right?

Not quite, any more.

In our current state of information overload, people have developed finely tuned BS-meters. These people (including you, since you’re reading a blog) are learning to tune out unprovable, opinion-based statements.  Instead, they prefer verifiable, fact-based statements.

“More than 300,000 people have died in Darfur since the conflict began” is a fact statement. It’s either true or false. But “The genocide in Darfur is the most brutal and despicable act ever perpetrated by a modern government” is an opinion. Perhaps uncontroversial, but an opinion nonetheless.

That’s tough: Decisions to give (like all human decisions) are emotional. Facts by themselves are not persuasive, and do not motivate people to give. 

So what’s a poor fundraiser to do? It’s what separates the boys from the men (so to speak): Stick to fact-based, verifiable statements, but make them emotional.

It’s true craftsmanship, and there’s no single way to do it. But work at it. Stick to the facts. Make them drip with emotion.

That’s not to say we should drop all opinions from our fundraising. After all, you are communicating with people you share values with (I hope). Certain opinions are likely to be read as “facts,” and are still persuasive. Just go easy on them. They signal “hype” and can hurt your case.


imageJeff Brooks is creative director at Merkle, a direct-response agency serving the nonprofit world.  He blogs at the Donor Power Blog.

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