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Around when I was 19, I would tear through material posted on an online writer’s forum—fiction or nonfiction, amateur or professional.
I loved finding weaknesses for writers who wanted to improve.
It was extremely gratifying work, always challenging and always fresh.
So I thought I’d start that back up.
But I want to focus on material that’s being used in the real world.
I want to take apart what’s actually seen the light of day instead of ripping into first drafts.
Well, I just got this month’s newsletter from CASA of Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem Counties, so I want to start with this recent post from them, “Stuff a Stocking for CASA this Christmas!”
CASA provides court-appointed advocates to represent the interests of abused and neglected children.
CASA of CGS uses the tagline Our only interest is the child’s best interest.
It’s important work.
That’s why nonprofit appeals that miss the mark pain me so much.
With no more than a small investment in a couple thin books, anyone charged with writing a fundraising appeal can outperform at least 90% of organizations.
The books I recommend starting with are The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications by Jeff Brooks and How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money by Tom Ahern.
That’s a total cost of $49.90 on Amazon. And each book is only about a hundred pages, so you can get through them in a couple evenings.
Even if you don’t memorize every technique they recommend, a quick overview will skyrocket you past most of your peers.
Instead of teaching these principles, I’m going to take Austin Kleon’s advice to “write the book you want to read.”
But I don’t want to read a book. I want to see actual writing subjected to the pressure of critique.
So I took the liberty of doing it myself.
Let’s take a look at the headline.
The headline is fine. I might bandy about alternates like “How You Can Put a Smile on a Child’s Face This Holiday Season” or “Your Small Gift Can Make a Christmas Miracle,” but “stuff a stocking” is a strong call to action—and it’s got the organization’s name in there.
The only thing missing is a benefit for the donor. How does stuffing a stocking for CASA help me? I dunno.
The body copy is where it goes south.
I took screenshot of the first paragraph and annotated it in GIMP.
I’m not a designer. I have no business retouching the image, but I took a shot, because just saying “this is bad” isn’t going to help anyone.
Here’s my take on the graphic:
It probably needs a border against a white background. You’ll have to use your imagination.
What changes did I make?
- I deleted the link because it was too small to read. If you need to show a link, it’s gotta be big enough to read.
- I moved the logo from the top corner to the bottom. It doesn’t have their name anymore, but the name is already in the copy (and it wasn’t readable before, anyway).
- I reversed the colors of the background and the copy for two reasons. One, the white background matched their logo. And two, dark text on a light background is easier to read.
The next section is unrelated to the appeal.
It’s called “Why Should I Give Back to CASA?”
If you don’t have the page open in another tab, do it now. (Let me know if they change it or take it down. I’ll put up a screen cap.)
First complaint: Give back? They didn’t give me anything to begin with.
But all you need to do to fix it is delete a word. Not a big deal.
The main issue is everything else.
That’s harsh, but it’s true.
A list of bullet points and a wall of text about the work of CASA volunteers has no bearing on whether I want to give foster children Christmas presents.
This is about giving gifts for the holiday season, not about collecting money to fund ongoing work—there’s not even a request for cash donations. Which brings me to my final point.
Always provide a cash option.
Some people may want to help but may not want to go to the trouble of assembling stockings.
CASA could easily provide an option to donate cash. For example:
Don’t have time to put together stockings yourself? Let us do it for you! Every $5 you give puts a stocking under the tree for a foster child on Christmas morning. Donate now.
But back to the newsletter…
Here’s how CASA introduces this fundraiser in their newsletter:
Are you a business or a group of friends/family interested in helping give Christmas stockings filled with goodies for the CASA kids we serve?
That’s a bad question.
Because the answer’s not obvious.
It’s way too easy to say no.
Let’s look at all the possible objections:
- No, I’m not a business.
- No, I’m not a group of friends. (Would be weird if I was a group of anything.)
- No, I’m not a family.
- No, I’m not interested in helping.
- No, I’m not interested in Christmas.
- No, I’m not interested in the kids you serve.
What’s the takeaway?
Don’t ask a question unless you’re certain of the answer.
“Would you like to double your salary while working half the hours?” is a good question.
“Would you like to hear about Jesus Christ?” is not.
If you’re trying to sell something, make sure you know the answer before you ask a question.
Was this helpful?
Did I miss something? Would you make different suggestions? Are my design skills as atrocious as I think they are? Got something else you’d like to say?
I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email.