The tone of your copy matters. Here’s an email test, reported at MarketingExperiments, that looked at the power of tone: Email Copywriting: How a change in tone increased lead inquiry by 349%.
The test was in an email designed to generate leads for a software package — a high-end purchase with a lot of moving parts and higher-than-normal resistance from customers. Think major donor capital campaign.
Here’s the opening of the control email:
You’re just one step away from getting FREE access to RegOnline, our award winning Event Registration and Management Software. Quickly man an event website, try our event marketing tools, build a registration form template or even generate custom name badges.
Pretty standard sales language. Nothing really wrong with it. It has that breezy, somewhat stilted approach that we’re all so used to hearing when someone’s trying to sell something.
Here’s the opening of the test:
I noticed that you started the process of getting free access to RegOnline but weren’t able to finish. Are you concerned about giving out your phone number? Are you worried about high pressure sales tactics or mandatory contracts?
Right from the top, it has a more colloquial, normal-human tone. It talks to the reader about things they care about and worry about. It doesn’t pile on the sales points. In fact, the test had very few sales points. It sounds like a normal person talking to another person about their concerns.
Results: the test generated a 349% increase in lead inquiry rate. You don’t see improvements that big every day.
Fundraisers are prone to slipping into sales jargon as much as sales people. And it costs us.
Here’s how to write like a normal person: Read your stuff out loud. Imagine you’re saying what you read to someone you know. If your copy is like that control copy above, the person you’re imagining would be tempted to punch you and in the nose, or run away. Why are you talking like that? You sound like you’re not a real person!
Keep revising until your copy sounds (and literal sound is important) like something you’d really say to a real person.
Yes, I know you’re educated and sophisticated. And so is your organization.
Just don’t let all that coolness show up in your fundraising.
The Marketsmart blog looks at the need for simple messaging at Why you should simply make your planned giving messages simple:
Supporters of your mission can get sophistication from a bottle of wine or a good book. But when it comes to your letters, they just want to know what the problem is and how they can help. You won’t impress anyone by complicating your appeal. And you won’t insult them if you make it simple.
It’s a lot harder to communicate simply. And a lot of fundraisers make it even harder for themselves because their pride in their own sophistication drives them to show off.
It’s rude. It’s boorish. And it’s not an effective way to raise funds.
Keep it simple!
Dante’s Inferno is a masterpiece of medieval religious thought, an unflinching look at the nature of evil and what it does to the human spirit. I urge you to read it (and also the other two parts of his Divine Comedy, Purgatorio and Paradiso).
If Dante had been a fundraiser, his Inferno might have been slightly different, featuring the evils specific to fundraisers. Alas, he wasn’t. We’ve been waiting nearly 700 years to find out what’s waiting in the afterlife for fundraisers.
I have corrected Dante’s oversight.
For the next nine Mondays, we’ll explore each of the levels of Fundraising Hell — who’s in them, why, and what they suffer for their sins. Dante’s Hell consists of nine levels, each one lower and more terrible than the previous. Fundraising Hell is similar.
Level 1: Virtuous Unbelievers
This level is a peaceful, pleasant, but somewhat sad place, where you see fundraisers wandering aimlessly.
These are fundraisers who never quite learned how to do their work right, who never heard the good news about effective fundraising. They never learned what works. Never attended a conference. Read a book. Or a blog. They just did the best they could in their ignorance.
Sometimes they got it right, more often they didn’t. But they didn’t really know the difference.
Many worked at very small organizations that couldn’t afford to send them to conferences, didn’t have books, and lacked connection to the larger fundraising community.
This is not a terrible circle. Technically, it’s part of Hell, but it’s not hellish. These deceased fundraisers continue their wandering and their relatively blissful ignorance. Their tragedy is one of wasted potential: They did their best, but their best wasn’t very good, because it lacked direction.
How can you avoid this level of Hell? Well, since you’re reading this, I can almost guarantee you aren’t headed there. You could be going someplace far worse, but we’ll get to that in the coming weeks.
Next week: Level 2 — The Lustful
There’s nothing really noteworthy in this mailing from Uncle Maynard’s local Red Cross chapter, except one thing…
See those little semi-circles marching down the right and left margins?
If you’re above a certain age, you’ll recognize them in an instant: They’re pin-feed perforations. Or rather, they’re printed facsimiles or pin-feed perfs.
Now why would anyone bother to add fake holes to their mailing?
I can only guess, but here’s a plausible explanation: The mailing is a long-time control that originated back in those dim, prehistoric times when pin-fed forms were the cheap way to produce this type of mailing. When you could afford it, you trimmed off the margins and nobody saw your perfs. But if you were really going for cheap, you left them there. And hoped the cheapness of it did no harm.
Eventually (in my hypothetical scenario) the people who produced this package come out with some great news: We no longer produce these packages with a pin-fed process. You can get the nice, clean, hole-free paper without the added cost of trimming!
Then the weirdest thing happened: The no-holes version didn’t work as well. And if that weren’t bad enough, it would now cost more to have the holes. They had to be artificially added to the process.
If they were smart, some testing was done at this point, so they could measure the cost and efficacy of the holes. Someone came up with the entirely strange idea of printed fake holes.
And the fake holes did the trick.
Direct response is that way sometimes. Clunky and ugly so often works better than modern and nice. Even artificial clunky and ugly. No, it doesn’t make sense. And that’s why logic is a weak guide for fundraising.
(If anyone reading this has the inside scoop on this package, I’d love to hear from you!)
If you’ve ever tried to come up with a fundraising idea that would motivate “everybody” to give, you know how it has gone. Reaching everybody is a silly goal. Like telling a joke that everybody will find funny.
Seth Godin’s blog encourages us to focus, at For the one person who didn’t get the joke:
… the ability to say, “It’s not for you,” is the foundation for creating something brave and important. You can’t do your best work if you’re always trying to touch the untouchable, or entertain those that refuse to be entertained.
Your fundraising messages — especially your most effective ones — clearly exclude most people. That’s not a shortcoming or a mistake. It’s smart fundraising.
If you’re trying to reach “everyone,” you’re probably reaching no one.