I have a confession to make. Are you ready? Pull your chair up a little closer. Okay, now lean in (I don’t want to say this too loudly)…
I’m a fundraising nerd.
Yes, it’s true. I’m a fundraising nerd. And you know what? I’m proud of it. Nothing turns my crank like a good statistic, and the best kinds of statistics are the ones that help me get better results out of my fundraising programs.
I’m constantly hunting for those little tidbits of knowledge. And, when I find one that resonates, I want to do a few fist pumps and shout it to the world. For this month’s article, I thought I’d share one of my favourites:
If you write your fundraising appeals at anything higher than a grade 7 reading level, response rates will drop.
Why our writing overshoots
That’s a proven fact, and it’s nothing new. So why is it that 95% of the fundraising appeals that land in my mailbox (and I get an average of ten a day) are written like an academic thesis? I’ve thought long and hard about it and here are my theories:
Sound familiar? Well, let me tell you what I really think (don’t I always?):
Getting it right
Have I managed to convince you? Excellent! Now here are my tips for increasing the readability of your fundraising appeals.
First, write like you speak. Use short sentences and short words. Avoid jargon and technical terms.
Second, focus on one message. Don’t try to mention every single program and every single regional office in your appeal. That might be what internal politics dictate, but you aren’t doing your fundraising program any favours.
Are you coming in higher than grade seven? Go back and replace long words, simplify concepts, tell a story … keep doing this until you’re in the grade seven range.
What a difference grade 7 makes!
Let me give you an example. Here’s a paragraph I pulled from a fundraising appeal I recently received:
We all need ABC hospital to continue to diagnose problems in their earliest stages and to fund innovative research that helps people in our community, and people all across Canada, recover. Anyone who has been informed of a medical concern knows how comforting it is to receive quick confirmation and follow up if treatment is necessary – rather than anxiously waiting for results to come back.
That paragraph reads at a 13.2 grade level. Let’s try rewriting it:
Susan hadn’t been been feeling very well, and had lost weight. Her husband, Bob, convinced her to see her family doctor, who sent Susan to ABC hospital for a few tests. Susan remembers that the wait for those test results was pure agony. She had trouble sleeping and jumped every time the phone rang. In the end, it turned out to be cancer but, luckily, Susan was treated quickly and is well on the road to recovery.
The grade level on that paragraph is 6.8. True, it doesn’t say exactly the same thing, but it does get the same message across. Plus, it doesn’t make my brain hurt trying to figure out what it means.
Read those paragraphs again and think about how your brain and heart engaged (or not) with each one. I’d be willing to bet that Susan’s story tugged at your heart strings and made you want to learn more.
At the end of the day, this month’s tip is simple to say, but harder to execute: write at a grade seven level. And, for those of you who are wondering, this article comes in at grade 5.9. In fact, it would probably be even lower if my grade 13 paragraph hadn’t skewed the results.
Leah Eustace is principal and managing partner with Good Works. A “fundraiser’s fundraiser” with a wide background in charitable fund development, she’s worked with clients including the Canadian Red Cross, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, CARE Canada and the UN Refugee Agency Canada on social media, direct marketing, donor research and legacy marketing.
She’s Past President of the Ottawa Chapter of AFP, President-Elect of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy-Canada, and a member of AHP, NTEN, the CMA and CAGP.
Contact her by email.