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Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Donations Suffer Because Of Deadly Dull Headlines. Is Your Organization A Victim?

February 17th, 2014 by Karen Climer

If I could tell you how to increase your donation without any extra expense or effort, would you be interested?  Keep reading…

I am one of those people who reads the newspaper – the actual print edition of the newspaper –every day.  Yes, I might be the only subscriber in my age bracket.  I sit down with my morning beverage of Diet Mt. Dew, open the paper, and read the headlines and photo captions.  If the headline captures my attention, I read the article.  This isn’t unusual.  This is how everyone reads the paper.  Recent headlines include:

  • “Florida man faces 60 years in prison for shooting teens over loud music”
  • “Russian skier breaks back in Sochi skicross training accident”
  • “Obama signs increase in debt ceiling”
  • “With drug-mill crackdown, experts fear heroin will be next Tampa epidemic”

I didn’t read all of these articles.  But even without reading them, I got the gist of the story from the headline.  That’s important.  Far less than half of all readers actually read the articles.

I read donor newsletter the same way.  Skim, and if interested, read.  Here are a few of the headlines from some donor newsletters:

  • “Changing lives”
  • “Impact research”
  • “Third party events”
  • “Playground!”
  • “From the executive director”

I hesitate to even call these headlines.  It is more like the large font on top of the article.  I didn’t read a single one of these articles.  Why not?  Because the headlines might as well have said, “This is a boring article.  Don’t waste your time.”

Bad headlines cost us a lot of money.  You will improve your donor newsletter (and increase your revenue) by writing better headlines.  It takes no more effort to write a good headline as it does to write a bad one, so this is essentially free money.  Here are three very easy things you can change that will improve your headlines…

First, the headline needs a verb.  A headline without a verb is a headline without action.  A story without action is boring.  If nothing is happening, even your most die-hard fans will not be interested.

Second, the headline needs more words.  There is no prize for having the shortest headline.  Look at the examples above from the newspaper and compare them to the donor newsletters.  It’s almost like nonprofit writers think there is a five-word limit.  The headline should be as short as possible, but as long as necessary to convey the essence of the story.  If it takes you 15-words to summarize the story, then use 15-words.  Remember, those might be the only 15 word that I read from your entire newsletter.

Third, the headline conveys the story.  Assume that your reader will not read the article.  If the headline is, “From the executive director,” what have they learned?  Well, that confirmed that your organization does indeed have an executive director, but otherwise, they’ve learned nothing.  What a waste of a headline!  What if the headline said, “Mom hears ‘I love you’ for the first time”?  Now that is something I would read!

Good headlines make all the difference in a newsletter, but headlines are not restricted to newsletters alone.  Use these same tips for your direct mail appeals, annual reports, brochures, and grant proposals.  Good headlines make it easy for the donor to understand what’s going on, which makes it easier to write a check.

P.S.  If you like my blog and learn something from it, feel free to forward it to a colleague.  Thanks!

Posted in Communication, Direct Mail, Grant Writing, Marketing

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