‘That doesn’t sound like us’ and Insanity

When an organization reads a draft of their upcoming appeal and thinks, “that doesn’t sound like us,” they usually experience that as a negative.

However, I want your organization to experience “doesn’t sound like us” as a positive – as a sign of growth.

After all, if “sounding like you normally sound” were the key to raising money, wouldn’t you have raised a lot more money by now?

And if your goal is to raise more money than you’ve raised in the past, shouldn’t you be actively trying to sound different than you’ve sounded before?

You Know the Old Line…

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

You must sound different if you’d like to raise a different amount of money.

What Does “Sound Like Us” Mean, Anyway?

In my experience there are four principles that, for most organizations, make up what “sounds like us” means:

  1. We don’t ask too strongly or directly
  2. We don’t share stories of need
  3. We like to sound the same way that the experts in our field sound
  4. We ask the donor to support our organization and its good work

For most organizations, appeals that follow those principles will “sound like us.”

The problem is that those four principles don’t work very well.

Try These Instead

Instead of the principles above, try these four:

  • We clearly and directly ask the reader to send a gift today
  • We share a problem that needs to be solved, and show how the donor’s gift will help solve it
  • We sound however the audience needs us to sound so they best understand the message
  • We ask the donor to help a beneficiary or the cause, not to help our organization

If you create an appeal or e-appeal that follows those principles, your donors will still know it’s you. After all, your mission is the same. Your logo and colors are the same. The person who signs the letter is the same.

It will not “sound like you.” But it will raise more money than your normal appeals.

And remember, it needs to be different if you want to stop treading water and raise more money through the mail and email.

Take Heart

If you’re an organization that is being held back by “but this needs to sound more like us,” take heart. Breakthrough fundraising is available to you. But you don’t break through by doing the same thing you’ve done before.

Show this post to people in your organization. Try something that “doesn’t sound like you” in email where the stakes are lower. Or try to implement just two of the new principles above (instead of all four).

But do something meaningfully different.

If you’re struggling with this issue, I can guarantee that you have “pent up giving,” because your donors haven’t been asked in powerful ways yet. They are waiting out there, ready to give you gifts!

You just have to stop “sounding like you.” And that’s a good thing.

Half As Important

Good Lord. Why in the world have we written nine blog posts on fundraising offers?

Here’s why:

  • Donor-centric writing is half as important as your fundraising offer
  • Organizational-centricity is half as important as your fundraising offer
  • Your organization’s or ED’s “voice” is half as important as your fundraising offer
  • How effective your organization is – that’s half as important as your fundraising offer
  • Your visual brand is half as important as your fundraising offer
  • How well-written (or not) the piece is – that’s half as important as your fundraising offer

In other words, in your mass donor fundraising, how you deliver your fundraising offer is half as important as what your fundraising offer is.

(Offers are also important for your major donor fundraising, which we’ll talk about in the next post.)

How do we know that those things are about half as important? Here’s how…

The 40 / 40 / 20 Rule

I learned this rule in 1993, and I find it just as true today:

  • 40% of the success of any fundraising is who you are talking to.
    • For instance, if you’re talking to major donors, you can expect to raise more money than if you’re talking to non-donors.
  • 40% of the success of any fundraising is the Offer.
    • As this blog series has shown, the “offer” of any fundraising piece (letter, email, newsletter, etc.) is what you promise will happen when a donor gives a gift. The better your offer, the more money you’ll raise.
  • 20% of the success of any fundraising is the “creative” – how you deliver your offer.
    • This is the writing style, whether you’re donor-centric or not, the typeface you use, the header on your email, etc.

Note that in the list I started off with, all of those things are in the 20%.

All of those things at the top are half as important as whatever offer you’re using.

Here’s What You Should Do

Any time you’re creating a fundraising piece that’s going to all your donors, be more concerned with what your offer is than with how the piece delivers the offer.

In other words, spend more time thinking about how you’re going to describe what will happen when a donor gives a gift. Spend less time trying to sound like your Executive Director, or with getting your grammar just right.

Because most organizations spend most of their time on how they write. On “getting their voice right.” Or on using brand colors. And those things matter half as much as what you promise will happen when your donor gives a gift.

Spend more time on the portion of your communications that makes the most difference. Spend less time on the portion of your communications that makes the least difference.

Read the entire series:

  1. How to Create a Great Fundraising Offer: What’s an Offer?
  2. Why a Good Fundraising Offer Works So Well
  3. The Ingredients in Successful Offers
  4. How to Describe the “Solution” Your Organization Provides
  5. How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount
  6. How and Why to Give Your Donors a Reason to Give Today
  7. What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?
  8. How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts
  9. Half As Important
  10. Offers for Major Donors
  11. Summarizing and Closing This Chapter on Fundraising Offers