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The Loyalty Letter

E-news that helps you keep donors connected (and giving)
to your cause.

October 2009
Published by Lisa Sargent

Dear Reader,

Sometimes, my first drafts are failures.
(I'm not crazy to admit this. You'll see why in a minute.)
Despite everyone's best efforts, signals cross. Phone reception goes wonky. Emails languish in junk folders.  

But no matter the cause, failure has a sunny side... whether your own writing regularly runs "the approval gauntlet," or you outsource donor communications to freelancers and agencies.
Why? Because mix-ups yield real-life lessons on what to do when things go wrong... along with how to prevent them in the first place.

You'll find three such tips in Article Number One. And in Article Number Two, the secret life of swipe files.

From New England's frosty hills, Happy Halloween! And thanks (as always) for being a subscriber,

Lisa Sargent
Sargent Communications

P.S. Yes, it's all copyrighted. But if you'd ever like to reprint articles, email me for info.

What to Do When Writing Goes Wrong

Whether you outsource donor communications or you do the writing yourself, these real-life tips can help you fix and prevent creative catastrophes

Last month I was working with a new international client on their fall fundraising appeal. We'd had a couple of productive email Q-and-A sessions under our belts, along with two equally effective transatlantic phone calls.

Still, my first draft completely missed the mark. So why on earth do I spin this tale of un-success, you ask?

Because someone should share what to do when things go wrong. And these three steps -- from the fundraising trenches -- are a good place to start:

Step 1. Fix, cheerfully. Thin-skinned, ego-plump communicators need not apply: the first thing to do is fix the problem promptly. Writer's Tip: all contracts with your creatives should include two rounds of revisions. If they balk, or try to charge extra, do not sign. And if you do the writing yourself, don't despair: first rounds rarely deliver "deathless prose." Expect rewrites.

Step 2. Examine, honestly. Take a cold hard look at what went wrong, own up to it if the problem was yours, and see that it doesn't happen again. Writer's Tip: in a separate email, re-confirm all details of a new project before creative work begins, to be sure nothing was garbled in transmission.

Step 3. Assess, proactively. Look at your donor communications function: from the first phone to call to the final proof. How much of it can you control? Where are the potential problem-areas? Writer's Tip: stay with the project until it's out the door, and require that your creatives do the same. Mark my words: if they care about their work, you won't even have to ask.

Epilogue: In case you're wondering, we did find the perfect "voice" for that fall fundraising appeal. Three drafts. All worth it. (And yes, I was cheerful.).

How to Spy On Your Nonprofit Competition

Swipe files have long been a writer's secret source of inspiration... but your nonprofit can leverage them another way. Here's the scoop:

Last week, grantwriting expert Pam Grow interviewed me on the ins and outs of donor loyalty. (Glowing feedback thus far: Audio only, longish at 40 mins. Listen here.)

During the call we dished on the subject of "swipe files"... a writer's personal, closely guarded stash of fundraising appeals or sales letters sent by others, and that said writer uses for ideas and inspiration.

In addition, several years back I had a brainstorm: I began building sector-specific swipe files for my clients, along with the direct mail and email samples I keep as my own source of secondhand inspiration... and I recommend you do the same.

Why? Because swipe files let your nonprofit:

1. Spy on the competition. Just like in the business world, your nonprofit has a rival or two... and your job is to know what the other guy is doing. Do your competitors send holiday sponsorship emails? Do they boast a charismatic leader? Does media cover them?

2. See what your donors see. It's a fact that folks who give typically support multiple causes (donor statistics here), and often in the same sector: consider the animal lover who supports, say, ASPCA, a regional humane society, and a breed-specific rescue organization.

3. Borrow sound strategies, spot new ways to shine. True story: years ago, I uncovered an insensitive remark made by the president of a nonprofit client's competitor, in a members-only magazine. Because of it, I was able to set my own client apart in their weekly e-news (no finger-pointing though, positive phrasing only).

So how do you build a competitor swipe file?

The easiest way is to choose a few key charities to follow, and donate. Before long, you'll be in their donor communications loop. Just remember, if you're looking to develop your online fundraising program, be sure to give both online and by direct mail... that way you can track both kinds of donor communications.

And for those of you mired in a creative rut, I share my boundless love for SOFII: online swipe file of the world's best nonprofit communications.

Again: SOFII. Go there, soon.

P.S. Subscribing to The Loyalty Letter is easy: scroll up for handy sign-up form at the top of this page.   

And lastly, if ever you have a question on donor communications, send it along to The Loyalty Letter. All you have to do is:


Or call: +001 (860) 881-7009.

On Skype: lisa.sargent96.

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