Sometimes, like getting to know strangers on airplanes, I let slip that I’ve written a couple of books. This often leads to the question “What kind of writer are you?” to which I always reply that I’m a persuasive writer.
I had a neighbour once who was a technical writer. She wrote instruction manuals and guidebooks for all sorts of engineering gizmos that I’d never understand in a million years. She’s a writer. I’m a writer. But, we’re as different as night and day…
The art of persuasive writing is, well, persuasion! Your goal when writing something persuasive (like pretty much ALL fundraising writing) is to get the reader closer to doing something you want them to do. In my book, fundraising is pretty much THE persuasive profession. It’s what we do. Period.
So what kinds of things should you do to become a better persuasive writer? There are hundreds of tools you can put in your belt, but I’ll highlight the six that I think are most important:
Know your audience
This is by far the most important piece of the persuasion equation. The better you know your reader, the better you can tailor your approach, message and language. I was taught in the very early days of my direct mail copywriting career that while direct mail fundraising is a mass audience tactic, every reader should feel that you’re writing JUST TO HER. So take the time to really crawl inside your reader’s skin. See the world through her eyes. Feel with her heart. Listen with her ears. You’ll be away to the races if you do.
Clear calls to action
Be VERY clear about the action you’re trying to persuade the reader to take. I’ll confess (and after being a fundraiser for decades, I don’t think I’ve ever said this out loud before) that I hate the word ‘support’ for example. Specificity is king. When Harry’s Mattress Mart runs a TV commercial that urges you to “drop what you’re doing and hurry down to our store right now!” they’re being specific!
Choose your messenger with care and thought
Having a real person (who’s credible and believable) convey your message is always more powerful that using ‘institution-speak’. For example, hockey commentator Don Cherry would be a great messenger if you’re selling pickup trucks. He might not be so great persuading preschoolers that they want a Barbie doll.
Use ‘social proof’
Academic studies have proven beyond question that people are far more likely to give, buy or vote if they see lots of other people doing it. Following a crowd is safer than being the first. Have you ever noticed the golden arches at McDonalds that boast about how many billions of hamburgers they’ve sold? That, my friends, is social proof!
Studies have also shown that we’re far more likely to be persuaded by people that we like than by people we dislike or feel neutral toward. Now, I’m not a fan of Ellen DeGeneres at all – but she’s one of the most inherently likeable people on the planet. If I were to mount a campaign for just about anything, I think I’d ask her if she’d like to be my spokesperson.
People feel automatically obligated to return favours. That’s why those premiums (like address labels and calendars) that we all hate so much actually work so well. Now, in most philanthropic situations, you can’t be giving away stuff. But you can promise great stewardship – especially updates on how donated money is being used and the impact that money is having.
These are just six tools to get you started on the path of becoming a more persuasive writer. If you’re a reader (and I hope you are!), I highly recommend a book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini. It’s a marketing classic.
Have fun becoming more persuasive – and do let me know how these tools work out for you!