‘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.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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