Make me smile! In less than 5 minutes! And make it easy!
A key tenet - maybe the most important "rule" - of persuasive writing, particularly direct-response copywriting, is simply this: the copy must make an emotional connection with the reader.
The copy (which includes video) must connect deeply with emotions already within the reader.
Most non-profits, if not all, have profiles of their donors and also know to whom to direct their efforts to bring in new donors (converting prospective donors into donors).
But many of them don't understand the importance of evoking emotion. Or, if they do understand, they don't know how to do it effectively.
My focus is primarily on Christian non-profits and Christian companies, other organizations carrying out the principles of Matthew 25:40 ("The King will reply, 'Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"), and veteran and military-related causes.
The missions and work of these organizations produce a treasure trove of material. Yet many of them are not getting or showcasing the stories that would make me or almost any other prospective donor pull out our credit cards as we smile, cry, or choke up - as we make an emotional connection with the organization's clients.
I'll do a deeper dive into who you are, how you work, and your financial stewardship -- but only if you grab me emotionally first and make me want to make a difference and impact a life by partnering with you, and be part of a story with a happy ending - just like the one(s) I just viewed on your website.
This article is about making me smile. Smiling is the first positive, emotional response any organization should want to evoke. A future article will discuss "making me cry" (moist eyes) and "making me choke up" (completely have me, lump in the throat) - the second and third (and still positive) emotional responses these organizations should be aiming to evoke. What about negative emotions, such as anger, fear, indignation? Fodder for another article.
You really want to make your donors and your prospective donors smile. If you get a smile, you've broken through the mundane, the sameness, and the "blah blah blah look how great we are" walls. You've not only gotten my attention, you've enticed me to sit down and have a cup of coffee with you, instead of "x'ing" you off my screen. You've gotten me in a good mood and predisposed to find out more. I want - maybe - to be a part of what you've got going on. I want - maybe - probably - to be the one who lifts up that child or another child and helps him or her through the struggle and on to victory! I've just seen it (watched a video or read a story with photos), and I'm saying to myself, "I want to do that for someone just like him (or her)!" and "I need to find out more about this non-profit" - and now I'm clicking all over the place on your website - more stories, how you work, where you work, who you are, and whether I can trust you to use my money wisely and with a high percentage going to program expenses.
So - how do you make me smile, quickly and easily?
Show me success stories focused on your clients! And not just any stories!
Give me authenticity - preferably a video, either narrated in the client's own voice (subtitles are ok if not in English) or with nice music and on-screen text. Try to avoid the slick, scripted narrations that sound like commercials.
Give me the pre-existing condition - the crisis, the problem, the struggle, the hopeless situation - as it applies to a specific life, a real person.
Show me exactly how you used donors' money to help the client overcome his or her situation, to walk beside her or him in the struggle, and to achieve victory - a happy outcome with a likelihood of permanence.
Show me a child or adult (the client) smiling, laughing, rejoicing, and (for the adults) praising God with thanksgiving and gratitude to God and Jesus. If the adult client is now helping others, so much the better.
Make these videos easily discoverable - put them on the homepage or in the menu header. Don't bury them and make me work to find them. Remove the obstacles to my smile.
Keep the videos between 1:30 and 5:00 in length. If some are toward the longer end of that range, grab me early so I'll keep watching. Ideally, make the video 2 or 3 minutes.
Get those videos - you have the raw material. Text stories are fine as supplemental material - some can be quite good - but remember, use lots of white space, good photos, larger text, and write conversationally (and evoke emotion!).
I looked at ten random non-profit websites to see how well or poorly they are doing on the "Make Me Smile" test. Annual revenues ranged from $10MM to almost $1B.
Here's what I found:
NP 1: Good job. Homepage has a video with a compelling story about an orphan's journey (despair, abandoned . . . to family and loved). I smiled. I want to know more.
NP 2: Nope. No video or stories. Sterile. Goodbye.
NP 3: Not really. Coulda woulda shoulda. Tons of prime material. But 90% of the main video was focused on the organization and its staff and volunteers. Don't care until you get me emotionally connected. The "story" videos focused on clients, good stories, but the voice-over was distracting and borderline annoying - it came across as a scripted commercial - no authenticity, no connection, no smile.
NP 4: No. No stories. Informative video (too long at 8 minutes). Nothing to connect emotionally.
NP 5: Darn. This one has a treasure trove of material (and my favorite as well - helping children), but the stories/videos are hard to find - and when found and clicked, the user is taken to youtube, offsite, deadend. And while the substance of the stories are great, the narration is overly scripted, overly dramatic, and falls flat emotionally as a result. No smile.
NP 6: No. Stories are hard to find. When found, they are all text (no videos). Ok - but the writing is flat, written as a term paper instead of an engaging, emotional story.
NP 7: No, but with a qualifier. This is a media company. Lots of meat on the bone on website, but no stories. They may not realize they have stories - they need to first realize that, and then go get 'em.
NP 8: Double darn. Prime material, but not leveraged. Main video (easy to find) is about the NP. Snooze. Story videos are hard to find, and when found, take the user offsite (deadend), with videos that are dated and weak. Text stories are in microscopic print in blocks (no one will read).
NP 9: Ok. Main video is informational on the organization. Story videos are hard to find, but when found, are good. I smiled, after being a bit aggravated.
NP 10: Wasted opportunity. Another treasure trove of raw material. Stories are hard to find, and when found, are mostly text - and pretty flat. Didn't engage, didn't smile.
Make me smile, quickly and easily. Odds are I'll hang around. I may just donate.
LIGHT SPARK MEDIA
Copyright 2020 James Wallace
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