Writing for Donor Engagement

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Your copy should come across to the donor as if they are your central focus as you share news or information that you believe will be of interest to them.

Q: How do you sustain a donor’s engagement with your organization?

A: Much as you would nurture a personal friendship.

Simple enough? Ah, not exactly. It’s true the concept of donor engagement is straightforward, but when it comes to execution, many of us don’t know where to begin.

Perhaps one of the challenges we face in writing for donor engagement today is that we so rarely write to our friends anymore. And if we do, it’s likely to be a very brief text message … or maybe a “happy birthday” post to a Facebook page.

Personal? … Hmmm, not so much!

But let’s back up. Rather than fret over the fact that we’re not practiced in the art of letter writing, it’s better to focus instead on the primary objective of developing an authentic, strong relationship over time.

You can take some cues from your own quality friendships and the principles that are essential to keeping those bonds strong. If you were to make a list, you would probably come up with something like this:

            I don’t ignore my friend for weeks or months on end.

            I express interest in things I know are important to my friend.

            I don’t ask for a favor every time we talk.

            I let him or her know that our friendship means a lot to me.

            I’m quick to express appreciation, respect, praise, etc. for my friend.

            I’m slow to criticize or find fault.

            If I sense our friendship is at risk, I try hard to remedy the situation.

You get the idea. Your donor is a person, not just a record on your database. S/he has a variety of interests and obligations. And your job is to relate to this individual much as you would one of your own friends. What often stymies us is that when we begin to write a letter, an email, or any donor communication, we often begin with no particular person in mind.

If your mindset is that you’re writing to the masses — rather than to one single individual donor — your copy is likely come across with an institutional flavor, as if your central focus is your organization. This approach will fall far short of your goals for retaining and engaging your donors.

It should be the exact reverse. Your copy should come across to the donor as if she is your central focus as you share news or information that you believe will be of interest to her.

Some people in our line of work like to use “personas” — imaginary people with certain attributes — to help them envision the individual who will be reading their donor communications. This should be an improvement over simply writing to the nameless, faceless masses.

But I recommend a powerful, tried-and-true approach that doesn’t require spending time and money to create fictitious personas. When you begin writing any donor communication, don’t write a word until you have in front of you the name of a real person … someone you know personally … who either is a donor to your organization, or who certainly could or should be.

When you do this, your copy will change. Your words will be chosen with this individual in mind. They will reflect your respect, your admiration, your gratitude for the donor … and you will be well on your way to writing powerful communications that will keep your donor engaged year after year after year.

If you would like additional insights regarding your direct response fundraising program, please feel free to contact me at bonnie.meyer@meyerpartners.com. Our team is ready to assist!

John Payne