Are You a Robot or a Human?


I’m a big fan of the Haggler,The New York Times columnist who steps in to help “aggrieved consumers” with his own mix of humor and snark.

In a recent column Running the Car Rental Agreement Gantlet, he tried to help a man resolve a dispute with a rental car company. When the Haggler contacted the company, a representative responded with a robotic response reciting a bunch of rules that weren’t relevant in this case. The Haggler said “he would have opened this email with “sorry” and news of the refund. Because the way the statement reads now, it seems as if the company is far more interested in reciting the rules of the car rental heptathlon than in making amends.”

I immediately thought of some of the nonprofit communication I’ve seen – generic, robotic messages with no indication that an actual human being wrote it, or there’s a human on the other side who will read it.

Here are a few examples that sound like they were written by robots.

X organization shines a spotlight on community needs, inspires philanthropy, and awards strategic grants to build a more vibrant, engaged, and equitable (community).

Our goals are ambitious ones and the charitable contributions we receive from supporters like you make our mission achievable.

X organization serves individuals who are are often the most disenfranchised. Your kindness will directly benefit people who are less fortunate.

Contrast those examples to these ones that contain a human touch.

Thanks to you, their children won’t have to wonder why Santa didn’t come.

We thank you for being part of our mission to spread the healing that Animal-Assisted Therapy can provide.

We are excited to continue to have your support and appreciate your help in protecting wildlife, wild places and communities around the world.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a lot of warm, personal communication. Here are some ways you can sound more like a human and less like a robot.

Different strokes for different folks

Don’t send the same appeal or thank you letter to all your donors. Who is this donor? Is she a new donor, a long-time supporter, event attendee, volunteer?

Welcome your new donors and acknowledge your loyal donors. Let your donors see that you know who they are.

Put yourself in your donor’s shoes

What does your donor want to hear from you? In the rental car example, that person wanted an apology and assurance he would get a refund.

When your donor reads your appeal letter, he wants to be thanked for his previous support if he’s donated before and know how his gift will make a difference. For your thank you letter, your donor wants to be welcomed or welcomed back and hear how his gift will make a difference.

Don’t recite your mission statement

Your donors should be somewhat familiar with your organization, so there’s no need to recite your mission statement, especially if it’s laced with jargon. Unless you’re writing to people who aren’t familiar with your work, you shouldn’t need to explain what you do.

Be specific

The robotic examples use vague, generic language. I know you may have different programs, but choose a specific example of your impact. I really like the example of the children not having to wonder why Santa didn’t come. It’s clear, specific, and something we can all relate to.

Show don’t tell

Stories can really boost your letters, newsletter articles, and website copy. Just think how much more compelling it would be if we read a story about “the disenfranchised” and “less fortunate.”

Who is your organization helping? Share a story about the people who visit your food pantry or the students in your afterschool program.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend

Notice how all the human examples speak directly to the donor. Let your donors know you’re excited to have them be a part of your community.

No one wants to read your jargon. These are not words your donors use.

Give it the human touch

Avoid the temptation to go on autopilot with generic communication that makes you sound like a robot. Remember, you’re a human writing to other humans.


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