The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

How to Tap into the Heart and Soul of Your Organization When You Write

Is your organization one of the thousands that miss the mark when writing fundraising materials?

A recent study by Frank C. Dickerson, Ph.D. found that the written materials of most nonprofit organizations focus more on transferring information than creating interpersonal involvement. His research found that the majority of online and printed materials written by nonprofit organizations are overly formal, cold, detached and abstract rather than conversational, warm, connected and concrete.

Based on research on more than 1.5 million words of online and printed fundraising texts from America’s largest charities and interviews with leading fundraising practitioners, Dickerson concluded that while we all think we can write well, the materials we produce for donors are usually not that good. Dickerson posits that one of the reasons for this is that many of us are conditioned by our education to write “for a professor who is no longer there” while what we need to be doing is writing for the audience that is there: donors.

If your writing tends to be more like an academic argument than a true-life story aimed at touching the heart, it’s time to break out of your old habits and put the heart and soul of your work back into every word you write.

In Messaging from the Right Side of the Brain: How to convey the heart and soul of your work and inspire a passionate following (view and listen to the presentation here), Katya Andresen and Mark Rovner walk through four exercises designed to break us out of the analytical mindset that strips the emotion out of our writing and help us infuse everything from web content to fundraising appeals with the passion and commitment we have for our work.

Katya explains the exercises on her blog this way:

  1. First, imagine you’re in an art museum gazing at a picture that captures the heart of your work. Mission statements and statistics don’t count! Those go on the placard next to the picture that tells you the boring details about the art. What we find is nonprofits don’t fill the frame with a picture that moves donors – they just focus on the placard. Fill your empty frame. What do you see? What faces, what scenes, what expressions? This is what you want to convey in your messaging.
  2. Second, fill that frame with a hero that demonstrates the best of your work. Who is that person? What are they doing?
  3. Third, try to distill that visual vocabulary into a phrase that is your brand mantra. Nonprofits offered some good ones on the call. My favorite:

    Bringing hope home (for an organization helping fill the homes of people in great need with furniture – and bringing them training and opportunity).

  4. Last, in less than six words, tell the whole story of your organization. My favorites were:
  • I woke up to puppy breath. You? (for an animal adoption agency)
  • You were. They are. You can. (private boarding school)

Try these out! Share what they evoke. And then try to push your fundraising toward this kind of right-brain thinking!

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About This Blog
Caryn Stein hi res

Caryn Stein
Vice President, Communications and Content, Network for Good

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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