The biggest difference between fundraising and other direct mail

In the last newsletter we suggested that the basics of direct mail are pretty much the same for the fundraising sector as for other sectors. But there is one huge difference that makes writing fundraising copy more difficult than other copy. In a word, that difference is benefits.

Whatever you’re selling, whatever media you’re using, your ability to persuade someone to respond or to buy is based on your ability to show them how they will benefit from the transaction. People will read your copy and respond because of a very simple principle called WIIFM – “what’s in it for me”. In other words, how do I benefit?

People don’t buy products or services. They buy the benefits the products or services bring them. A benefit is how the product will make me better off, how it will improve my life. Make me money, make me healthy, save me time, save me energy, make me smarter, thinner, stronger, taller, prettier, more handsome, etc.

Benefits result from product features. For example: A mutual fund offers a 20% annual return. That’s a feature. As a result, I’ll have more money to spend. That’s a benefit. A tire is guaranteed never to blow out. That’s a feature. I can enjoy peace-of-mind when I drive and never worry about changing a tire. These are benefits. A golf jacket is waterproof, Gore-Tex lined and weighs only 5 ounces. These are features. It will keep me dry in the rain, with Gore-Tex I won’t sweat and it’s light enough to carry all the time. These are benefits.

So how do we identify the features and benefits in the fundraising sector?

Let’s start with the features. There is no perfect analogy but it would seem in a fundraising situation, the features would be the “good things” that the fundraising organization does with the money they raise. Saving animals. Helping children. Finding a cure for a disease. Simply stated, the features are the ways the organization will make a difference. The benefits that the donor will enjoy will generally flow from these features. So part of the task of the fundraiser/copywriter is to ensure that these features are made clear and prominent in the copy.

We don’t usually talk of the benefits of giving but rather the motivations for giving. Identifying the benefits or motivations of giving is difficult because they are based on individual perceptions and feelings. The benefits of a tire or jacket described above are universal. That is not the case in fundraising. People donate to any specific cause for a variety of reasons and in most cases, stem from personal experiences. Some of them are:

  • A desire to make a difference. This could be based on altruism or compassion or both.
  • They care about a specific issue and want to take a stand. This could be idealistic and/or could be politically motivated.
  • They may want to keep up to date on a specific issue or cause and donating may accomplish that.
  • Some people may give because donations are tax deductible.
  • Many people give for spiritual or religious reasons. There could be a sense of obligation here.

But the overriding motivation for giving is that it feels good to give and that good feeling is instantaneous. And in this busy stressful world we live in opportunities to feel good about one self may be rare. So the challenge for the copywriter is to somehow capitalize on this. To remind the reader of the wonderful sense of joy they will experience by putting that cheque in the envelope.

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