Letters with Friends: Someone asks. I opine.

Hiring a digital-comms specialist? What makes a great one (I’m looking at you, Jennifer Pyron, Arkansas Children’s Foundation)? & why IS “visual” writing SO important to strong reader/donor engagement?

Big news… Sally wrote. We are doubling our communications department by hiring a Director of Multimedia Communications. I am looking for someone who can recognize a good story, write to key audiences and adapt and share across various platforms from print to digital.

Do you have suggestions for evaluating candidates to see who can discover a good story and tell it well? To me the technology part is far easier to teach.  Sally

So I replied, as one does (flattered to be asked)…
Interesting problem, Sally.

I’d start, maybe, with a writing exercise they can submit with their application.

Give them some raw facts. Ask them to turn them into a tweet and a Facebook post. That should tell you something. Maybe. (Like do they use action verbs at least? Can they write a crisp, interesting headline?)

I mean, the real skill is one they WON’T likely know unless they’ve been working in the commercial world.


In the unending quest for a quick fix, “storytelling” has become something of a fundraising darling.

And, YES, it IS VERY important. Witness the increasing success of the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference, with its copious attendee testimonials to the impact of storytelling on dollars raised.

But Facebook fundraising, social media fundraising, event promotion and such require more than digital skills, more than storytelling skills … they also require an understanding of how sales work.

But by itself storytelling doesn’t raise money. What DOES raise funds reliably and at lowest cost is storytelling linked to hard sales skills.


[my email response to Sally continued] The moneymakers in today’s Facebook fundraising are old-fashioned offer ads. The kind John Caples wrote. I have a great book on just such a skill called How to Write a Good Advertisement by Schwab, pub. 1962.

What I’m basically saying is this:

A useful, money-making [key words] web-content person should be able to tell your stories vividly and concisely … but also to STRONGLY, successfully promote your events, programs and your products such as legacy funds.

Nobody just “gets” how to do sales copy. It’s not a skill you’re born with. You HAVE to be trained (the Schwab book would do it) to sell hard and bring down your dinner.


This new communications job of yours could turn out to be a standard setter for a position that is becoming minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day ever more important in the nonprofit world … not because online fundraising now produces loads of income (it doesn’t) but because it will be the sluiceway for ever-increasing torrents of fundraising as the future unfolds.

There are some amazing experts already out there on the thick ice. Beate Sørum in Norway leaps to mind, in the social media sphere. On figuring out the web content side, Kivi Leroux Miller is tops in the US. If your candidate doesn’t already know these two names, then she might need significant training.

BOTTOMLINE: I would look for an ad-writer with story-telling chops and the necessary technical familiarity. It’s almost a job for a radio DJ.



Jim is a client. He’s a dream client, for at least three hard-core reasons I’m happy to share. Jim sent me a note, referring to the feasibility case statement I’d drafted for his statewide land conservation group:

Thanks – I’m a plodding, sloth like learner, but it’s clear from your work, and others, that humor and visual language make an impact.

It seems to me we need to be more poetic – in a visual way – in our writing. The physical style you use compliments the poetic nature of the writing. Not quite ee cummings visual machinations, but closer to him than a legal brief!

So I replied, as one does (“you had me at ee cummings…”)

That’s actually the only thing you need to learn as a writer, to keep people reading: how to put pictures in their heads.

Show not tell.

Turns out the brain responds exactly as if the scene were real.

You’re in bed. Your light’s on. Her light is off. She’s sleeping deeply.

You’re reading a novel. You love this time in bed: late, alone, engrossed in well-written crime novels. You read the words, “He raised his hands to the heavens.” And at the very same time your brain fires up the neurons that control arm motion. Mentally, as far as your mind’s concerned, your arms are rising.

MRIs are great.

yr friend


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1 Comment

  1. George Crankovic February 22, 2017 at 10:02 am #

    Tom, totally agree that writing must be visual. Here’s an article with tips on using verbal images in fundraising copy: http://www.nonprofitpro.com/article/7-ways-use-verbal-images-pull-donors-into-your-fundraising-appeal/all/


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