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?​

So how do we fix this problem?

Since it does no good to have a perfect message if no one reads it, my research included a series of controlled tests by the American Heart Association to figure out how to get more mail opened. The test was designed to measure any changes in response that could be attributed to sending a more personal-looking direct mail package.  The tests compared a traditional window-envelope package with a simple hand-addressed envelope containing a notecard that was also personalized with handwriting. American Heart Association allowed me to analyze three controlled A/B tests.

During the workshop you will learn how their strategy paid off, increasing response by 346% and more than tripling income.

If you would like to read a position paper on this subject, adapted from a chapter in my dissertation, clicking here

Alternatively, download this and other resources from my academic research site using this URL:https://www.TheWrittenVoice.org

The Verdict: The Way We Write is All Wrong.

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.​

What's in it For You?

You'll Learn how to get your message opened and read so you can raise more.

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

About this Benchmark Study & Narrative Fundraising Seminar:

And you'll learn how The American Heart Association Increased Response by 346%

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

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.

How do fund raisers write?

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 awa

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.​