One ugly does not fit all

One ugly does not fit all

By R. Trent Thompson, Brand & Marketing Strategist

Ok, I can no longer bite my tongue. That shit hurts.

There are a few out there telling the masses that an “ugly” appeal is better than a “pretty” or “professional” appeal. They say ugly raises more money. It stands out more to donors. That a pretty appeal is inauthentic. Ugly is good; pretty is not.

WTF? That’s analogous to saying, “Milk does a body good.” Um, not for everyone.

There are many ways to build a fundraising campaign. Ugly is one way. But, there are too many variables to categorically say ugly is the best way.

My partner (@TammyZonker) and I have consistently created highly successful multichannel, year-end fundraising campaign “strategies” for many wonderful organizations. But, here’s the thing: We also personally built, deployed and managed most of them.

What do I mean by built? After developing the campaign strategy, we rolled up our sleeves and interviewed real service recipients and dedicated supporters. Wrote powerful and compelling stories based on those raw and vulnerable conversations. We segmented their donor database, based on the donor’s communications and giving preferences. Whether they’re active or lapsed. Recent gift amounts. You get the idea.

We identified the type of content their segmented donors preferred and served up bite-sized morsels for their emotional consumption. We determined where their donors hung out online and then took the campaign directly to them in their preferred channels, both on- and offline. We then made it super easy for them to make a gift at any time, from anywhere, through multiple channels.

Oh, I’m not done. We searched through all their assets to select every photo, video and graphic to be repurposed for the campaign. If they didn’t exist, and the budget allowed for it, we directed every photoshoot, videotaping, or animation. Created every direct mail, email, social media posting. Wrote every donor acknowledgment letter. We seamlessly applied all campaign assets across the “donor-preferred” channels to ensure campaign theme and messaging continuity; to protect against creating a disconnect between the first time a donor encountered the campaign and the moment s/he made a gift. Then created a Jenga-style campaign calendar to manage all the madness.

“Pretty” and “professional” aren’t the words we use. We use words like “innovative” and “strategic.” If you want to stand out to donors, grab their attention, and move or inspire them to give more, being innovative and unafraid to explore new ways to engage donors should be your mindset when building a fundraising campaign. Not, “How ugly can I make this campaign?”

Can “innovative” and “strategic” raise a lot of money? Done right, every time.

Prove it? As an example, for three of the organizations we work with — who previously subscribed to “ugly” and the use of one, maybe two channels — we increased their year-end giving by 317%, 521%, and 867% by being strategic and innovative. For one of those campaigns, we received “Campaign of the Year” and “Multichannel Campaign of the Year” Gold Awards from Nonprofit PRO Magazine. That campaign was not ugly.

Our lens? To inform our strategy and creative — to make certain we get it right — we’re on the front line working side-by-side with amazing staff and loyal supporters every day. Experiencing and witnessing first-hand the “before and after” transformation resulting from the incredible work being done. We’ve co-presented numerous appeal case studies at many of the conferences you attend each year. Our sessions are often filled with organizations who aren’t getting the desired traction with ugly. The Q&A and long lines that form after our sessions only amplify the need, the demand for “innovative” and “strategic.”

One ugly does not fit all.



P.S. Pretty appeals aren’t authentic? Dude! Remember when I said @TammyZonker and I work side-by-side with staff and supporters every day, experiencing the challenges and witnessing the outcomes first-hand? The part where I mentioned we interview real service recipients and supporters? That we write powerful and compelling stories based on those intimate conversations? Pretty lacks authenticity? My ass.

P.P.S. Others say appeals tend to be over-designed. Perhaps that’s true in some cases and should bear out in the fundraising results. However, if you first build a solid strategy and then create a fundraising campaign that’s directly informed by that strategy, it will not be over-designed. It’ll be designed as intended; to raise a lot more money.

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