In order to work effectively, DRTV must concentrate a great deal of fundraising best-practice into 60 seconds. And as such, it’s a great reminder of where fundraisers often go wrong, Derek Humphries explains.

In order to work effectively, DRTV must concentrate a great deal of fundraising best-practice into 60 seconds. And as such, it’s a great reminder of where fundraisers often go wrong, Derek Humphries explains.

When you read a direct mail pack or an annual report from many not-for-profit organisations, you quickly discover that fundraisers tend not to be in the habit of using one word when several are more likely to tick boxes on internal communication matrices and satisfy a 360-degree range of internal stakeholders. Like that last sentence: there are just too many words.

This has really struck me after a few years of writing scripts for TV appeals. In direct response television (DRTV) every word counts. Every syllable, in fact. And every word must drive response. Likewise, every beat of music, every second of footage.

A new way of looking at fundraising communications

It has led me to reassess how I approach other forms of fundraising. What’s now clear is that fundraisers and their organisations spend massive amounts of time agonising to find precisely the right words for their vison statements, mission statements, cases for support, direct mail packs and trust applications, when so often it is imagery – whether photos or footage – that inspires people to act.

I am, at heart, a copywriter, so in no way do I wish to say that words don’t matter! More that they need to be used selectively. We have all been in those workshops where 30 people write hundreds of words on post-it notes which are then diligently clustered to identify themes. I’ve run those workshops. I may well do so again in the future. But I’ll be placing much more weight on the images.

Let’s look at a case for support, for example. This should be the key document designed to persuade donors of the importance of supporting your cause. It will appeal to the heart and the head, the spirit and the values of supporters. But too often it will do so via many pages of text which are very hard to translate into a simple, public-facing communication, where a single powerful image can create an inspiring appeal that performs for many years, like the example (right) from the UK’s The Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

So now, when creating a case for support, we seek first to tell the story in images. To do the same, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How can we best visually show the need?
  • Which photographs – or video footage – will demonstrate the solution?
  • How can we show our credentials to be the best organisation to deliver that solution?
  • Whose voices will bring this to life, and testify to the difference we have made?

Approaching this first from a visual perspective can make the subsequent writing of copy so much easier and more focussed.

Six key lessons from DRTV

Overall, there seem to be six key lessons from DRTV that will make almost any other form of fundraising stronger:

1. Show the need, the solution, and how the supporter can make a difference. Show, not tell.

2. Write an emotional rather than a fact-driven narrative. Fundraising is about feelings more than facts.

3. Whatever you write can be 50% shorter. Write fewer words.

4. Avoid all indulgence: the supporters won’t notice whether or not you’ve included every key message from your strategic plan. They will notice if you make their hearts skip a beat.

5. No-one is hanging around hoping you will ask them for money. Everyone is getting on with their increasingly busy lives. So you are in the business of constructive interruption. Make your interruption one that offers the supporter the chance to do something great.

6. Keep your stories incomplete unless the donor intervenes. Communication should rarely be about how fantastic the cause is. It should be about how fantastic the supporter can be by acting through the cause

The three i’s of fundraising communications

Inspiration and information are concepts that need no explanation. But the relative proportions you need of each will vary according to who you are raising money from. For example, a charitable foundation may demand more information than an individual signing up with a door-to-door fundraiser.

As for ‘indulgence’, this is the word we use for the kind of content that allows the organisation to feel that it has included all its organisational key messages, but which won’t necessarily mean anything to the potential supporter. In DRTV there’s zero scope for indulgence … and there’s no reason to allow lots of indulgent content to slip into other communications forms, such as direct mail.

Once a sentence or paragraph of indulgence creeps in, there is a risk of losing your audience’s attention which, in turn, will stop them taking the action of donating.

Matt can you please put the image and text below in a side-bar on the right of the page

An image helped RNLI’s proposition succeed

Pg 34 RNLI-pic1
Derek Humphries

One of the UK’s longest running and most successful supporter recruitment propositions was this one for The Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Various agencies tried and failed to beat it for 20 years. Although it contains fine copy, the image is crucial – from the arresting eye contact to the expression which makes you feel this is a reluctant hero who’d rather not be having his photo taken. This ‘real’ image of a man – capturing his values of courage and strength – has helped make the message so successful for so long.

Derek Humphries

Derek Humphries is a creative director at the DTV Group, and helps create television appeals for good causes in around 30 countries.