1. Remind people of the problem
Don’t take for granted that your audience already understands the problem your organization is working to solve. State the problem. Be clear and direct.
Even the most basic issues—education, global warming, feeding the poor—are complex at their core. Be very specific about the exact problem facing the exact population you serve. Then speak and write in plain language.
2. Avoid using acronyms, abbreviations, and jargon
Referring to your organization or program by its initials is a mistake. If your name is too long, change it. Every time you use an acronym or other shortcut for your name, you miss an opportunity to remind people of the business you’re in.
For example, most people know what the SPCA does…but when did you last engage with their core message? The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—doesn’t the full name remind you of what the organization is in business to do?
Granted, the name could be shorter, but hearing “animal” instead of “SPCA” makes a clearer and more emotional connection with people who care about animal welfare.
3. Focus on benefits instead of features
“Features” are what your organization does: provide programs, use volunteers to deliver services, etc.
“Benefits” are the solutions and positive outcomes that result from your features: lives are changed, children are protected, adults find jobs. Benefits motivate donors; features do not.
Rather than telling people about your scholarship program and how much money you distribute, focus on the way your community has changed because of your scholarship program; describe the lives that have changed, and the increased economic health of your community.
Your scholarship program is a feature. Changed lives and a better community are the benefits.
Your organization solves problems. Talk about the problems you solve, not the way you solve them. Donors give money not to processes (features) but to outcomes and solutions (benefits).
4. Keep it simple
When you come into contact with someone for the first time, whether in print or in person, it’s tempting to share everything there is to know about your organization.
Successful messaging demands that you stay focused on a high-level idea and mention only those things that help convey the essence of your organization. Be disciplined about what to share. Don’t overwhelm people with too much information. A good rule is to start with a description of the problem your organization is in business to solve.
5. Engage the reader
Great communication addresses the receiver’s, not the sender’s, point of view. When you want to get someone’s attention, use the second person “you” and speak directly to that person’s concerns.
Consider the difference between these two examples:
- The Education Fund needs donations to give students a chance to fulfill their college dreams.
- Your gift to The Education Fund helps a student fulfill her college dreams.
Which example is more engaging? Which organization are you more likely to support?
6. Highlight people, not programs
Studies show that we are much more likely to respond to the emotional story of a person’s challenge and success than to statistics proving the efficacy of the program designed to serve him.
We can learn about a youth-adult mentoring program, but hearing Sarah’s personal story of getting into the college of her dreams after participating in an after-school mentoring program makes us cheer for Sarah and all that she’s accomplished. We know the program is successful because we watched Sarah succeed.
There are, of course, appropriate times to share numbers. Some people need rational data to reinforce what they feel emotionally. When sharing data in a story context, though, use only numbers that are truly surprising, and frame them in a way that helps people conceptualize what those numbers really mean.
For example, reporting that 500 people received a scholarship isn’t nearly as impressive as saying that the number of people receiving scholarships this year would overflow Harvard’s largest lecture hall.