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Saturday, January 20, 2018

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Quality Spotting
Tom Ahern

May, 2010

How do you know when your donor materials are strong enough for the outside world?

Little story. True, though.

I had this client recently. They came to me, asking if I could fix their case for endowment, since they knew the case they had written themselves wasn't compelling.

They didn't know exactly why. But they knew it was a dud.

So they sent me a PDF of their case and I critiqued it, pointing out in detail, with lots of little pop-up electronic Post-It notes, the many ways it was busted.

Then I wrote them a coherent, new version, at their request. It told their tale concisely and with sufficient passion; they have, after all, a magnificent story, trulyinspiring.

For safety's sake, they submitted my version of the case to a nationally ranked planned giving consultant for her independent appraisal. She pronounced it "wonderful," a judgment the client accepted.

Except not. Later, I learned, they decided to rewrite it. "Some people thought it was too direct-mailsy," the development director explained.

A little background: this is a faith-based charity, with a lot of social workers and educators involved. The boss is a cleric.

"Too direct-mailsy"? What a relief, I thought.

Here's my point. Being "too direct-mailsy" is exactly what you want. Being "too direct-mailsy" is a good thing, for a host of reasons. Being "too direct-mailsy" is not only where you want to be, it is where you need to be, to be effective when writing and speaking to donors. Word of God, I swear.

Let me explain something.

Direct mail is the most tested communications medium on the face of the earth, bar none. Nothing else comes close.

Direct mail has been around since the 1800s, when national postal services first made the business possible. During modern decades, trillions of dollars, literally, have been spent to test direct mail offers and their language.

What does direct mail know that the average person does not?

Direct mail knows that emotions rule all purchase decisions, including making a gift.

Direct mail knows that flattery will get you everywhere.

Direct mail has more tested tricks up its sleeve than most of us have sleeves.

Direct mail, in short, is superbly sophisticated about sales psychology.

Untrained staff and board members, on the other hand, are notsuperbly sophisticated. All due respect.

So, when they(these untrained staff and board) say the stuff sounds "too direct-mailsy," I think, Yes!

With a mental fist pump.

What is good direct mail, after all? It shines and produces revenue because it is ... personal, emotional, rational, convenient, conversational, well narrated, and to the point. As all donor communications should be.

When your donor communications make untrained insiders fret and fuss, know this: you're on to something worthwhile. That's a golden rule, an 11th Commandment.

>>> Takeaway>>> If untrained insiders like your stuff, you're probably pleasing the wrong audience.

Tom Ahern can be found at


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