Why I’m pro-choice (where words are concerned).

I know a direct-response-copy pro who says good writing is nothing more (or less) than word choice.

I have to believe he’s right. That’s why those of us who want to do more than merely talk to donors — who want to truly connect and lead them to deep levels of engagement and partnership — should choose them carefully.

That simple truth was reinforced for me yet again when a client recently hired a consultant to advise them on messaging. He had zero experience with fund-raising or development. Nevertheless, there he was, presuming to help the organization infuse their communications with a new and improved kind of messaging that “works” with donors.

They’d done extensive — and expensive — research with this gentleman to help them determine what kinds of words and phrases related to their ministry are likely to resonate with donors and prospects. Unfortunately, this kind of research is often “aspirational.” Just because donors find certain words and phrases appealing doesn’t necessarily mean the use of those words leads to any change in their interaction with the organization.

After seeing his influence seep into their donor communications, we were able to get the ministry to agree to test his conclusions. In a lapsed donor reactivation mailing, we put our letter copy head to head against his.

Well, he wrote a “nice” letter — a sort of syrupy, two-page kumbaya that was a largely self-focused string of vision clichés and branding themes. It took forever to get to the point.

Our copy, based on years of experience with what brings lapsed donors back into the fold, was direct, built rapport from word one, reinforced the ministry’s mission, reminded partners of why they originally partnered with the organization and made a respectful ask intended to reengage the donor.

Is it any surprise that our copy beat his on response by a margin of 3 to 1, and on ROI by 2 to 1?

In the end, this guy chose the wrong words, plain and simple. He created a letter that included all of his pet words, but never drove to a specific point. And the point, lest we forget, was to reactivate donors.

Let’s make no mistake, the fundraising environment is changing. (Click here to read more about this seismic shift in donor behavior.) [link to DFL section: http://www.masterworks.agency/donors-for-life.html] We need to be mindful that today’s donors are increasingly likely to demand a more meaningful level of engagement with the organizations they support.

To me that means word choice still matters. Now more than ever.

Craig Torstenbo

Creative Director