3 Tips for “Radical” Fundraising Communications

Published by Brock Warner on

I was recently re-reading Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, and couldn’t help but extract a few nuggets of advice that any fundraiser could benefit from with a quick refresher:

TIP #1: A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.

“If your people are not having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.

Pause for a moment and take stock of every fundraising tactic that your organization employs. Now consider if your staff are “having a ball” doing it. Are they? If not, either you’re using the wrong tactic, or you’ve got the wrong people.

TIP #2: If they don’t understand, then you’re not communicating.

It does not matter what you know about anything if you cannot communicate to your people. In that event you are not even a failure. You’re just not there.”

It’s easy to get stalled trying to remember every copywriting tip and trick you’ve heard at a conference, or read on a blog. But there is an oft-overlooked element of communication to remember – that delivering your appeal in a relatable context for your donors, or potential donors, is what opens the door for success.

This is because your donors only truly understand and empathize with your message when they can relate it back to a personal experience, which then becomes a shared experience. It’s a synapstic connection, the mind now relating their known world to the previously unknown. You haven’t just opened a door, you’ve busted down a wall. When you can do that, you’ll have a loyal supporter for years to come.

Accomplish this, and you’re no longer an organization, you’re a peer.

This is a simple concept. It’s know your audience, and respecting that every donor has limits to which they’ll follow you and your cause. If you step outside that shared experience, don’t be surprised if they start treating you like a stranger again.

TIP #3: When choosing your words, to substitute is to dilute.

“To pander to those who have no stomach for straight language, and insist upon bland, non-controversial sauces, is a waste of time.”

Substitution for a synonym and the overuse of non-profit jargon is my biggest pet peeve in nonprofit communications. What good reason do you have for pulling punches? Leave the vague proclamations and pandering to politicians, and remind yourself that you are the outsider. You’re the feisty non-profit that is going to solve this problem.

If you’re sending direct mail and you want them to send money, ask them to send money. Don’t replace that with “your support today…”, “every little bit helps…”, or “make a gift.” You’re not fooling anyone, and you’re wasting paper.

Brock Warner

Brock is obsessed with raising money for causes he believes in. He is based in Toronto, Canada and loves to connect with other passionate fundraisers from all over the world. Follow Brock on twitter here: @brockwarner.


eyeBrand · March 15, 2012 at 14:46

Great post and good tips.

We marketers pride ourselves in coming up with slick speech, fancy terms and important sounding words in our presentations and communications. The bottom line is that we need to connect to people. Period.

People outside the marketing conference room have little interest in “marketing-speak”. Being direct and using language that you can hear in any coffee shop or living room is always the best. Otherwise, people feel they are being sold by a polished salesperson.

People want to support a cause. They don’t want to be sold into doing it.

Twitter: @eyebrand

    Brock Warner · March 15, 2012 at 17:27

    So glad to hear you agree! It is so easy to fall into the trap of marketing-speak! It is helpful to always consider the channel that you’re making the ask within, and the audience as well. There is rarely, if ever, a one-size-fits-all solution.


Christina Attard @GPtekkie · March 15, 2012 at 16:16

Good post, Brock!

As a communication junkie, I loved your comments and think you’ve nailed it.

Diluting and confusing the language is especially challenging for those of us who work to promote gift planning and legacy giving concepts.

“Create your legacy for our future generations” vs. “Make a Bequest” – I agree that the straightforward language can be more powerful.

Thanks for this post.


    Brock Warner · March 15, 2012 at 17:30

    Thanks Christina! I’m not shocked that you agree with me, because you’re such a confident and outgoing person. I hope that this blog can begin to circulate to a few people that need to hear this message.

Ashley · March 15, 2012 at 19:11

I am definitely a fan of tip #3!

peer to peer lending · March 16, 2012 at 16:06

Soon tip #4 will be “To Make Money” :D

Kathy Swayze · March 16, 2012 at 17:37

That’s why the ability to “push back” is one of the most important attributes of an excellent writer. Don’t let them water it down!

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