Why, the Book of

Someone in the UK asked me to maybe write a “HOW TO” standard desk reference re: donor communications. It got me thinking about WHY.

[The new book might open something like this…]

My dear, dear reader…

As Mark Phillips, the award-winning founder of Bluefrog London, insists: “The only thing that matters a damn is the donor experience.”

Please note, too: for the vast majority of your supporters and prospects, communications will comprise most of their so-called “experience” with your charity.

Any impression you make on these donors — good, bad, indifferent — will be thanks to your communications.

So, one more time:
YOUR communications will
comprise the ENTIRE experience
most donors EVER have of your charity.

For most of your donors, therefore, the quality of your communications will make or break your “brand” … if like me, you agree with Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap, who summed it up this way:

“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company.”

You build that gut feeling through encounters.

“I called the company for help and was on hold for 20 minutes.” Bad encounter; you think poorly of the brand (and you tell your friends).

“I called the company for help and a really nice, patient young woman answered immediately and helped me through my problem.” Good encounter; you think well of the brand (and you tell your friends).

Every communication you send a donor – digital, print, by phone or in person – is also an encounter.

Shall we face facts? For the vast majority of your supporters and prospects, there will not be any tête-à-tête private dinners with the charity’s CEO and the semi-celebrity board chair.

For the vast majority of your supporters and prospects, the reading experience, digital and print, will be all they know of you.

To put it bluntly: you really can’t afford to screw this up.


Here’s your first lesson.

Right now, right this second, YOU are having an experience. As you read these words.

The act of reading is an experience, you see.

It’s a physical experience (you have to move your head and focus your eyes).

It’s a temporal experience (it takes precious time, and our supply of “disposable attention span” shrinks by the day; science, not opinion).

It can be an emotional experience (good for fundraising).

It can be an unemotional experience (not good for fundraising).

And it’s always a labored experience, at some level; because making use of that skilled literacy that took you years to acquire requires an expenditure of mental energy.

If what I just said seems overblown, please understand: you cannot guarantee your donors a good experience consistently, time after time after time, until you understand how a seemingly simple act of reading works in complicated ways.


For instance….

In the sentence, “You are having an experience,” the mere presence of the word “you” gaffed your brain.

You’re caught on a hook. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

After all, you’ve been called by that innocent-seeming pronoun literally since you were born. “Aren’t you the cutest baby ever?!?” parents and grandparents and nurses screamed when you first emerged, bloody and squalling.

It doesn’t take long.

Soon we’re as conditioned as Pavlov’s dogs to respond to the word “you.” And that conditioning lasts a lifetime.

Knowing just that one teensy bit of basic psychology is worth a fortune to copywriters. Seasoned copywriters understand that when a reader’s brain encounters “you,” it warms up instantly. “You” brings the reader closer. The reader takes the pronoun “you” personally, without a second thought. (Exactly as I intended, by the way. Because I’m so clever.)

Which is to say, you had a brief experience. A positive brief experience.

It felt good to see that warm personal pronoun, you. You felt noticed, emotionally. (Again: exactly as I intended; clever, boy.)

And yet there’s more….

Something else positive happened in your very own brain at that very same instant:

Your brain saw a short sentence and liked it.


Because a short sentence is easy. Your brain grasped it instantly, with zero perceived labor. As opposed to LONG, complicated sentences … which SHOUT “mental labor.” Challenging your brain. Which is NOT a pleasure.

My short sentence made you feel smart! And that was a pleasure. (Boy, am I clever.)

Joseph Sugarman, ex-CIA, is a superstar of direct response advertising. And he taught me that trick.

To quote him:

“If the purpose of all the elements in an ad is…to get you to read the copy, then what we are really talking about is reading the first sentence, aren’t we? What does this tell you about the first sentence? Pretty important, isn’t it?…

“Now if the first sentence is so important, what can you do to make it so compelling to read, so simple, and so interesting that your readers—every one of them—will read it in its entirety? The answer: Make it short.” (My emphasis.)

To recap….

I typed, “You are having an experience.”

In just those five words, your brain experienced happiness twice: (1) the warm hug of the word “you”; (2) the relief of a short sentence that was blessedly quick for an over-solicited brain to consume.

People tell me they want to write like me.

Well, writing is thinking. And this is how I think. When I write, hoping to persuade? There’s no guesswork, if I can help it. I depend on proven experts and neuroscience, as much as I know.
PS: Are “communications” the same as “communicating”?

Not at all. Not in the least. Not even close.

“Communications” require nothing more than a desire to spout messages and a medium by which you can afford to distribute your chosen spout: print or digital.

“Communicating” requires a response from the intended audience.

Big diff. If the “target” audience does not respond in sufficient numbers, then you’ve clearly missed the bull’s eye.

Never confuse “communications” with “communicating.”

“Communications” often produce zero result: nothing at all worthwhile.

“Communicating,” on the other hand, is Aladdin’s overflowing treasure cave.

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