It’s a question I hear pretty often: How can I raise more money? The answer in part is to learn how to improve your fundraising messages. Start by paying attention to the fundraising pitches that you receive. Notice what works, what’s effective. Notice when the pitch “gets to you” and you either donate—or have to talk yourself out of donating.
And for the pitches you receive that leave you cold—especially when it’s a cause you care about—figure out why. Analyzing what works and what doesn’t is the best way to learn how to make your pitches more effective.
I save good email pitches in a folder in my in-box. And I save any stellar examples of hard copy fundraising letters in a folder on my desk. Both folders are pretty slim because good examples are few and far between.
Or maybe I’m jaded.
But if you’re anything like me, you’re bombarded with fundraising and marketing pitches all day long. And the majority of these are ineffective. In fact, most are lousy.
Full of jargon and clichés, most fundraising pitches are long and awkward pleas for help, focusing on the artists’ needs instead of on what they offer to their audiences.
Most pitches fail to spark our curiosity.
What’s worse, they don’t make a real human connection with readers so we aren’t compelled to take action.
Of course, some pitches are for terrific causes and do convey a well-reasoned call to action.
But that’s not enough.
Newsflash: it’s not reason that gets us to take action.
So you might be doing everything else right but still missing the one crucial thing—you need to make a real human connection.
Here’s a recent example from my folder of excellence. It’s worth taking a look at and analyzing to see what you can learn that will help your next campaign.
This is from a small NYC-based repertory theater company that I’m a big fan of: Bedlam. I first saw them do Twelfth Night in New York and since then I’ve been lucky enough to catch more performances in both NY and Boston.
So I’m on their list and get their holiday newsletter which I’m pasting most of below. Check it out—and who knows? Maybe you’ll be inspired to donate, too!
It’s a typical season’s greeting email, a simple layout with a collage of photos from recent performances followed by press quotes. That’s pretty standard fare for an arts organization’s newsletter.
The quotes are excellent and well-deserved—the company is fabulous. So no problem with establishing credibility.
But let’s face it, there are a gazillion deserving causes competing for our limited discretionary funds.
So how does Bedlam make the pitch and stand out from the crowd?
There’s not a lot of actual text—just two segments to help make their case. So a lot was riding on the messaging (sent Dec. 27) if the company wanted to grab some of those year-end tax deductible donations.
Take a look below and read the message from the Artistic Director.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS from
PHOTO CREDITS (From Upper Left): Photography by Ashley Garrett: Eric Tucker & Vaishnavi Sharma in Pygmalion, Susannah Millonzi in Uncle Romeo Vanya Juliet, Rajesh Bose in Pygmalion, Randolph Curtis Rand in Uncle Romeo Vanya Juliet, Annabel Capper in Pygmalion, Edmund Lewis & Zuzanna Szadkowski in Uncle Romeo Vanya Juliet; Photography by C. King Photography: Aundria Brown in Saint Joan; Photography by Ashley Garrett: Nigel Gore in Pygmalion, Zuzanna Szadkowski & Eric Tucker in Uncle Romeo Vanya Juliet, Eric Tucker in Pygmalion.
Uncle Romeo Vanya Juliet -Ten Best Theater Productions of 2018
— Sara Holdren, NEW YORK MAGAZINE
Zuzanna Szadkowski in Uncle Romeo Vanya Juliet -Best Performance in a Play
— Terry Teachout, WALL STREET JOURNAL
“(Bedlam is) an invaluable addition to our present-day theater scene.”
— Steve Suskin, NEW YORK STAGE REVIEW
“When Bedlam slices to the core of a classic text with wit and verve and a show-off’s delight, it’s doing what the company does best… lots of Bedlamite fun throughout.”
— Alexis Soloski, THE NEW YORK TIMES
“Director Eric Tucker has woven smart, relevant touches into his exceptionally performed, highly entertaining, must-see production of Shaw’s classic.”
— Pete Hempstead, THEATERMANIA
“The great thing about attending a Bedlam show – this is my fourth – is that you know you will never, ever be bored. This company’s take on the classics is so energizing and fresh that even when you think you know the script, you’ll find yourself in for some surprises. Saint Joan is no exception. Four characters play all of the roles, and they do it amazingly well.”
— Michael Hoban, THE THEATER MIRROR
A MESSAGE FROM
Artistic Director ERIC TUCKER
It’s a series of gut decisions; that’s all you can go on when you’re making art. Some Critics will like it and some won’t. Some Audience members will respond in a positive way and others negatively. If you think too hard about pleasing everyone, you’re going to end up homogenizing your choices or making them easier and that runs contrary to the intention and mandate of the artist. We make the best thing we can, with what we essentially need, with the best actors and designers to tell the story. You take risks; you take chances. If we are not constantly trying to surprise ourselves and to surprise you, then what are we doing?
Artistic Director, Bedlam
Committed to the immediacy of the relationship between the actor and the audience, Bedlam creates works of theatre that reinvigorate traditional forms in a flexible, raw space, collapsing aesthetic distance and bringing its viewers into direct contact with the dangers and delicacies of life. In this new, fresh, active environment storytelling becomes paramount and the result is a kinetic experience of shared empathy.
BEDLAM is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. All donations are tax deductible. Join our family of collaborators and supporters by clicking below to make a contribution through our website.
What I love about Eric’s message is his candor.
It’s rare among artists and arts organizations. The message is human, honest, and yes, vulnerable—he’s saying that their productions are all about risks and that not all critics or audiences will like what they do.
Unlike many arts organizations’ pitches, he’s NOT saying “we’re the greatest thing since sliced bread” or that “all audiences love our stuff” or that “everything we’ve done is amazing.” No one wants to get yet another over the top promo piece.
Nor is Eric making the opposite rookie mistake, using the desperate “poor me” message begging for donors to bail the company out financially. That only leaves readers questioning the organization’s financial management and strategic planning.
Neither of the “usual” strategies is effective.
Instead, Eric’s honest vulnerability got me to stop scrolling and slow down enough to read, reflect on the Bedlam performances I’d seen, and think about risk and artistry. His message is what got me to save the email and it’s what prompted me to make a contribution to them and to write this blog post.
In a few short sentences Eric unpacks the company’s DNA, giving us readers the sense of having the inside scoop on the company’s creative process.
Eric uses inclusive language that helps us connect his process to our own experience. He doesn’t refer to himself or the company as “I,” “us,” or “we” but includes us all: “that’s all you can go on when you’re making art.”
Because we’ve all had to make gut decisions when creating something new. Eric reminds us that if we focus on pleasing everyone, we only compromise ourselves and our vision.
We learn that Bedlam takes risks, not knowing if they will work—but knowing full well that they will not please everyone. And Eric tells us that the artistic risk—the experiment and challenge—is the whole point for Bedlam. “You take risks; you take chances. If we are not constantly trying to surprise ourselves and to surprise you, then what are we doing?”
I love that THAT is the pitch itself—their approach to risk and to surprising themselves and us. Because it’s no coincidence that immediately after this statement we get the first donate button.
But wait, there’s more.
The second real piece of text in the newsletter is the company’s mission statement. And again, it stands out from the usual mission-speak. This one is surprising—but consistent and true to their performances and to Eric’s description of their process.
The language is memorable and provocative. I can’t think of any other mission statements with phrases like “the dangers and delicacies of life” and “the result is a kinetic experience of shared empathy.”
Bravo to Bedlam.
Who wouldn’t at least be curious about this company from this kind of promo language?
I hope you find this inspiring.
But please, don’t “borrow” their language or copy their formatting and approach.
Because what makes this so effective is that it rings perfectly true for Bedlam—it describes who they really are.
So this isn’t simply about using clever phrases and elegant sentences. A convincing mission statement and description of your artistic process takes reflection to drill down to get at your own truth.
If you borrow other people’s mission language it will only make your messaging sound awkward or forced—as though you’re trying to run in shoes two sizes too big.
Instead, here’s what you CAN do. Take time to reflect on and write about your own artistic process and your essential goals as an artist (or as an ensemble or organization).
Write down phrases that capture the real spirit of what you do and why. This takes time, reflection, and focus.
But it’s worth it. Because this can be the start of you having far more effective promotional materials and fundraising campaigns.
My experience with writing and editing promo pieces (including my own) is that you don’t want to do it by yourself. You need objective feedback and help through a process of drafts to hone a quality final piece. Enlist mentors or invest in coaching to help you clarify, articulate, and polish your message—and get to your truth.
And you’re invited to join us on FB Live every Tuesday at 7 pm ET / 4 pm PT over on our Musicians Making It Facebook group—tomorrow we’ll be diving deeper on the topic of fundraising so please join the conversation!
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Interested in receiving either private or being part of small group coaching? Let’s set up a time to talk – reach me at Angela@BeyondTalentConsulting.com
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well