What do high performing appeals and Harry Potter have in common?
And in both cases, what makes donors give and readers buy even when they’re going through a rough financial patch?
The answer? Reader-hooking commercial creative writing principles. The principles that make commercial novels like Harry Potter phenomenally successful.
And as Cheryl Clarke puts it in Storytelling for Grantseekers, “I believe that storytelling is at the very core of all successful fundraising.” http://bit.ly/swR2Le
The Dog’s Trust Harry Potterized an appeal….and the result was millions.
It’s no accident that the Dog’s Trust used commercial creative writing principles in the appeal that recruited the donor who later left a 7.5 million legacy to the charity. The direct mail letter, for example, was written from the perspective of a poor abandoned dog: “I was really scared and hungry and in the end I curled up in a ditch to keep warm.”
This excellent piece of creative writing formed the core of a direct mail package that helped Dog’s Trust’s income rise exponentially, with ROI’s as high as 1:12 (for every £1 investment, there was a £12 response from donors) http://www.sofii.org/node/33
With that said, I’m offering a series of FREE templates, mind maps and tutorials to help you use commercial creative writing principles in your appeals. Free short lessons that will fit easily into your day. So why not sign up for email updates?
One important caveat here – this article is based on the assumption that it’s not just finances that cause donors to stop giving. According to a recent article in Third Sector, 80% of donors who cancelled their direct debit giving did so because they no longer felt a connection to the charity.
Economic realities matter, certainly. But the emotional and psychological factors matter just as much. And storytelling via the use of commercial creative writing principles is an excellent way to forge emotional bonds with donors. (Of course, never forget analysis and testing http://bit.ly/vum0Nw)
So, with that said, do you want donors to be emotionally engaged enough to give even when they’re a bit short on cash?
One sure-fire way to improve your chances of that kind of engagement is to Harry Potterize your appeals by using the following commercial writing principles:
1. Imaginatively engage with your audience while you write
You often hear the old adage that you need to know your audience. But I would go even further. You need to actually think about and consider your audience while you write. In Relationship Fundraising Ken Burnett suggests visualizing the donor as they pick up the envelope that’s been pushed through their mail slot. To try to imagine what they’re thinking and feeling as they open and read the headline or the first sentence.
2. Keep the structure simple and elegant
Try to fight the impulse to tell the reader everything your organisation does. Focus on one story or one aspect of your work; focus on one way your donor can change the world through you. I know this may seem a bit counterintuitive but if you cram an appeal with too much information, you’ll lose your reader’s interest.
Consider that one story, that one simple angle, a portal to your larger work. By keeping the structure of your appeal elegant and simple, you’re likely to arouse a natural curiosity within the reader. And then they’ll feel compelled to find out more about you by going to your website or finding you on Facebook.
For upcoming templates to guide you in integrating stories into direct mail and internet appeals, subscribe today (top right hand corner)
3. Uncover the conflict & make the donor the protagonist
Here’s an excellent example from Alan Sharpe’s letter for Street Kids International:
“In Kazakhstan, in the city of Almaty, in a bustling neighborhood of that city, the locals don’t look to Ted Rogers or Bill Gates for their inspiration, but to a local lad called Jamshed. He’s a business hero, thanks to you.”
The letter goes on to describe Jamshed’s struggle: his father abandoning the family, leaving him as the family’s sole-provider. The letter uses Jamshed’s own testimony to present the conflict. But the letter is also peppered with details about Jamshed’s triumph and phrases like “thanks to you” and “with your continued help.” Here, the donor is the protagonist, a major figure in a tale of empowerment.
For an up coming tutorial on applying this to appeals, sign up for email updates.
4. Tap into elemental human emotions
In his book The Power of Personal Storytelling, Jack Maguire suggests that you ask yourself two questions repeatedly when doing any community-oriented storytelling:
- What gifts do my personal tales have to offer: what joys, cares, values, interests, and special life experiences do they convey?
- Where, how and why in my community might these gifts be needed or appreciated?
Answering these questions will help you approach your story with the emotional motivations appropriate to your audience. And you’ll be surprised by how that then comes out in your writing.
5. Show! Don’t Tell!
I left this tip last because I think it’s one of the most important. In fact, any creative writer worth his or her salt will have had this principle rammed down their throat, either through self-training or through more formal creative writing training.
And what does it mean? Well, rather than just telling your audience about an event, you show them what it actually looked like through imagery and detail.
Here’s what that looks like in a fundraising appeal example.
Telling: “As a charity, we help the elderly overcome social isolation by organising outings and social events.”
Showing: If you were to visit 80-year-old Bill in his small flat a week ago, most likely he would have been alone, watching television or sitting silently. In fact, Bill’s only visitors would have been his social worker and his visiting nurse. But that was only for an hour, perhaps once a day. But thanks to supporters like you, yesterday was the first day of a new life for Bill. A bus came to pick him up and when he emerged through the door, a chorus of “hello, Bill” from his peers greeted the lonely man. He went for a stroll on the beach and struck up a conversation with another man who was a WWII veteran. Then, he companionably ate fish and chips, feeling the glow of being a part.
The difference is huge. Number one is fine for your elevator speech. But number two brings the donor directly into the experience of the beneficiary. And the beauty of this principle is that it can transform ALL your donor communications: direct-mail appeals, email appeals, newsletters, blog posts etc.
No more procrastinating. No more blank-page dread. Write high-impact ROI yielding stories in half the time with the templates and writing tools that will be available through the Fundraising Creative Writing Series.
This kind of course content would normally cost you. The Institute of Copywriting Course is about £500. Fundraising Skills courses run from £200 – £400. Institute of Fundraising Day Courses run from £60- £100,
And I’m offering similarly in-depth content for free!
Why not sign up for email updates at the top right hand corner?
Are there certain writing tools, templates or tutorials that you’d like to see in the future? Please leave a comment and let me know. I want to help in any way I can.
Or just feel free to say hello or get a discussion going:-)