Steer Clear of Generic


Generic products can be a great option. When CVS ibuprofen is exactly the same as Advil, why not save some money by going generic?

One area where you don’t want to go generic is in your fundraising and communication.  Yet so many organizations do.  Here are some ways to avoid creating generic communication.

Same old same old

Are you sending all your donors the same appeal letter and thank you letter?   Stop doing that. At the very least, create different letters for new donors and repeat donors.  Acknowledge a donor’s past support or upgrade.  You can also personalize letters to lapsed donors, event attendees, or volunteers. Different Strokes for Different Folks

Most of the thank you letters I received after I did my year-end giving were pretty generic. One stood out.  This organization had an anonymous donor match all new and increased gifts (a great idea by the way).  In their thank you letter to me, they acknowledged my increase and the impact of the match.

You may use the same letter templates year after year. Think about how your donors will respond. With lackluster retention rates, do yourself and your donors a favor by personalizing your letters.

Who are your donors?

Conduct surveys to get to know your donors better. Create personas by either interviewing donors or imagining what they may think based on information you already have. How to Develop Donor Personas for Your Nonprofit

Once you have a donor persona/profile, you can craft messages that will resonate with them.

The more you know about your donors the more successful you’ll be.

Invest in a good database.

A good database will help you collect information about your donors and segment your lists by different groups.

Create a jargon-free zone

Now that you’ve gotten to know your donors, you’ll realize most of them don’t have a medical or social services background. They’re not going to use terms like at-risk populations and underserved communities, and neither should you.

Jargon confuses your donors. Imagine them looking glazed when you write about capacity building and disenfranchised communities. You don’t want them to ask What Does That Mean? Use language they’ll understand.

Tell stories

Stories can help you get beyond that vague, generic language. Most people respond better to a human-interest story than a lot of statistics.

Let’s say your organization wants to provide fresh, affordable produce to certain neighborhoods.  Here you can tell a story like this.

Marta is a single mother of four who doesn’t have a car.  She would love to give her family fresh fruit and vegetables, but the neighborhood grocery store has overpriced, marginal produce and the nearest supermarket is four miles away. 

Now, thanks to donors like you, Marta can pick up a box of fresh produce each week at the community center, which is just two blocks from her home.

Be specific

Time to dust off those templates and make your appeal letters, thank you letters, newsletters, website, annual reports etc. clear, conversational, and specific.

Have someone outside your organization, a friend or family member, look at your messages. Something that’s clear to you may mean nothing to others.

Generic is fine for vitamins, but not for your communication.

Photo by Paul Jerry


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