"Frank, I tend to throw away many fund-raising letters and I never thought about analyzing the content and determining what works. I am pre-conditioned to favoring certain charities and causes and pay little attention to other solicitations. But your language analysis and findings are critical to practitioners."
Philip Kotler, PhD, Professor of Marketing
Northwestern University

"Frank, this is amazing work, just the kind of thing we should be doing more of."
Grant McCraken, PhD
Research Affiliate, MIT

"The Way We Write is All Wrong is a wake-up call based on solid evidence, and it couldn’t come at a better time."
Andy Goodman, Principal
The Goodman Center

"Frank, a very impressive study. Having been in direct mail for more than 30  years, your research is a window to the craft of words and  how important copy is to successful direct marketing. In fact, given that twitter only allows 140 characters, I think the ability to write clearly and concisely is even made more important through social media."
John McIlquham, C.E.O.
The NonProfit Times

"I was pretty impressed. We need more research into the ‘soft  side’ of fund raising. Story telling is where it’s at!"
Gail Perry, Principal
Gail Perry Associates

"I am interested in referencing your findings in The Nonprofit Marketing Guide. Thanks so much for your contribution to the field!"
Kivi Leroux Miller, Principal

"OMG Frank! Your work is brilliant! This research is profound and needs to be shared widely.
Michael Margolis, President
Get Storied

"Thank you for sharing your research. This is very interesting work and of course extremely relevant for a large nonprofit organization like CARE.  We know the importance of language in delivering our message to donors and the public, and it is both interesting and helpful to read your analysis of the current problems that plague written fundraising communications. We've also been testing similar variables that you mentioned in your study, such as simulated hand-written fonts and nonprofit stamps vs. first class rate to name a few.  And, we continue to learn from our testing and tweaking of direct mail copy as well. Your research will be invaluable to us as we continue to try to 'crack the code' on what motivates individuals to take action through our direct response vehicles."
Kymberly McElgunn Wolff, Sr. VP
Formerly with CARE, Now with Habitat for Humanity

          For all attendees: Courtesy follow-up review of your next appeal

Funding from Levasis, the nonprofit sponsor of this seminar, has made it possible to offer a  free post-seminar review of your next fund appeal. Dr. Dickerson will review your copy and make suggestions at no cost or obligation. This free service, which normally costs at least $250, reflects the mission Levasis was founded to achieve: Leveraging Knowledge to Assist Nonprofit Leadership.

         Consider a seminar for your team at your site at lower cost

For groups of at least eight, Dr. Dickerson will come to your site and present the seminar for your team at the reduced rate of $125 per participant. For more information, contact Frank directly at 909-864-2798 or email Frank@NarrativeFundRaising.org.

About this Benchmark Study & Narrative Fundraising Seminar:

How do fund raisers write?

That question framed a computer analysis of 1.5 million words in 2,412 fund-raising texts. The 880 organizations studied spanned all nine philanthropic sectors and included the 735 North American charities that raise at least $20 million annually, plus 145 smaller nonprofits. By marrying the hard science of multivariate statistics with the soft art of language analysis, it was possible to profile the writing of these elite charities. Factor analysis identified seven traits common to all writing. Then using these key indicators, fund raising discourse was compared to genres like academic prose and personal conversation. So how did fund raisers fare?

The Verdict: The Way We Write is All Wrong.

This was the conclusion of a computer analysis that tagged and tallied 67 linguistic features in texts, counting, for example . . .

  • Private, present tense verbs such as I think and I feel that make a text read like a conversation sounds
  • Grammatical constructions like the passive mood that elevate abstract concepts over people
  • Concept management tools like prepositions and adjectives that connect, densely pack, and modify language 
  • Public, past tense verbs such as she said and he asked that report the dialogue of prior conversations

Instead of writing copy that makes a personal and emotional connection with a donor, and that relates a story about someone helped, the typical fundraiser continues to write for a professor who's no longer there. That's what the data indicate. This is consistent with the fact that more than half of nonprofit executive directors hold masters or doctoral degrees. Their writing reflects the patterns of discourse they learned in graduate school—patterns once critical to academic success, but now detrimental to raising money. Their audience has changed, but their writing hasn't. Adjusting to the demands of communicating with a donor requires not only convincing the doubting mind, but also touching the apathetic heart so the reluctant will is moved to give.

The shocking results of this study bring to mind the distress call that Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert radioed back to mission control on April 14, 1970. I echo Swigert in describing the implications of this research: Fund raisers . . . we have a problem.

So how do we fix this problem?

That question framed the development of the Narrative FundRaising Seminar. This hands-on workshop will help you:

      Learn how dozens of language features produce specific effects in discourse 
      Identify how these features affected outcomes in the texts the research examined
      Apply these lessons as you create a text during the workshop that you can put to use right away 

What 17 Thought Leaders Say About this Language Research:
"Wow, we are true soul mates when it comes to fund raising. Terrific. This stuff is great. I can’t wait to highlight it in my work."
Katya Andresen, C.O.O.
Network for Good
"Frank, wonderful stuff and we’d like our 7000+ readers of The Agitator to benefit from it."
Roger Craver, Founder
Craver, Matthews, Smith

"Dr. Dickerson shared the results of his exhaustive analysis of nearly one million words of fund-raising copy. He explains why nearly everything he studied came up short."
Mal Warwick, Founder & Chair
Mal Warwick Associates

"This research agrees with what almost anybody who spends any time
looking at the way nonprofits communicate already knows: Most fund
raising copy is wooden, artificial, dull, and ineffective."
Jeff Brooks
Future Fundraising Now & TrueSense Marketing

"Imagine my pleasure realizing you’re the author of the piece I read a few days ago that I hoped to commend in my e-newsletter. One of my chums in the nonprofit world said: ‘Look, we’re NOT all nuts; and here’s the research to prove it!’ Thank you. You've done everyone a big favor. Lousy written communications are costing the industry gazillions in lost revenue."
Tom Ahern, Principal
Ahern Commmunications Ink

"Fantastic. Great job in dignifying what I have also practiced: ‘Write the way you talk.’ I still do it and still dictate all my letters."
Jerry Huntsinger, Founder
Huntsinger & Jeffer

"Frank I'll be brief. Awesome, as my young Canadian associates say. Keep it up and if you get to London--well, if you don’t call me for a pub-crawl you’re not half the man you think you are! Here is to the preservation of wisdom."
John Sauvé-Rodd, Principal
Datapreneurs, London

"I completely agree with your take on the way we write. So much communication sent by great organizations is poorly crafted. And that
makes it difficult to get people to listen to very important messages."
Joan Smythe Dengler, Sr VP
Covenant House

"Dr. Dickerson, as part of his doctoral studies at Claremont Graduate University, in California, recently analyzed more than 1.5 million words of online and printed fund-raising texts to determine how effectively fund raisers communicate with their audiences. While his findings were enough to fuel a 350-page dissertation, his thesis can be boiled down to a few short words: Most fund-raising copy stinks."
Peter Panepento, Asst. Managing Editor
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

A hands-on workshop

Do You Make These Five Fatal Mistakes When You Write a Fund Appeal?

Whether you raise major gifts face-to-face or speak to groups . . . whether you create direct mail letters, grant proposals, or online content
each of these tasks begins with writing.
 Dr. Frank Dickerson's analysis of 1.5 million words of fund-raising copy found that the typical appeal . . .
  • Reads more like an academic paper than a conversationpreferring abstract concepts over making a human connection 
  • Has less narrative linguistic features and rhetorical structures than an official documenthigh exposition/low dialogue 
  • Lacks the three types of characters needed to build a storyprotagonists, antagonists, and ensemble cast members
  • Fails to create tension with events, dialogue and imagerydoesn't make a reader scared, sad, glad or mad enough to act  
  • Neglects to offer the leading role of hero to a donordoesn't show how their gift can bring resolution to a nonprofit's story

Beyond theory to practice . . . at this workshop you'll learn how to avoid these problems by applying what you learn. You'll write, read what you write, and get feedback on . . . 

  • 10 rhetorical superstructures of the connecting narrative moment—the heart and soul of a fund appeal
  • 23 linguistic features of personal emotional connection—words that make an appeal read like a coversation sounds
  • 6 linguistic features of obfuscation to avoid—words and structures that create dense, tangled, detached prose
  • 6 linguistic substructures of narrative—the story materials used to build the connecting narrative moment
  • 5 visual language factors that add to text what a smile adds to speech—how paralanguage lifted response 346% 
To download the Workshop Overview click on the left thumbnail.
To download the Seminar Agenda click on the right thumbnail.

Cost: $189 | Lunch & Parking: not included
Seminar: 9 am - 4 pm | Free Briefing: 4 pm - 5 pm

To pay by check, return the brochure payment coupon. Or . . .
Click on the PayPal icon below for the date and venue of choice.

(If name on card is not participant's, email their name to: Frank@NarrativeFundRaising.org)

Monday, Feb. 13, 2017: California Community Foundation | Joan Palevsky Center | 281 S. Figueroa St. Ste. 100 | Los Angeles, CA

Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017: The Westin Hotel Pasadena | 191 N. Los Robles Ave. | Pasadena, CA

To maximize participation among participants, enrollment is limited to 12. To reserve your pace, click on the Pay Now button above.

     Can't make the seminar?
Join us for a FREE Research Briefing after each seminar from 4 pm - 5 pm
        Email: Frank@NarrativeFundRaising.org

   (RSVP noting briefing date & names of attendees)

    While it won't provide the
    workshop's skill practice...
    In an hour you will learn:

    What you should examine in your own writing
    How to write in three dimensions of language 
    Why Pliny's 90 AD fund-raising letter worked
    Why Harvard's 1633 fund-raising letter failed
    How your nonprofit's writing can be evaluated
    How hand addressing tripled direct mail response

      Can't make a briefing?

    Email me for FREE downloads
    (I will send you a link to more than a dozen articles, a chapter
    excerpt from my dissertation, and a speech on power writing
    William Zinsser gave at the Columbia School of Journalism.)

    Email: Frank@NarrativeFundRaising.org





























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