Posts tagged ‘The Ask’

June 21, 2016

Stop Making Stupid Email and Direct Mail Mistakes

Last week, my wife received an email appeal that demonstrates that fundraising professionals continue to make stupid email and direct mail mistakes. I’m not talking about fundraisers who have failed to use cutting-edge techniques. Instead, I’m talking about folks who have made S-T-U-P-I-D mistakes when it comes to the fundamentals of making a simple appeal.

To help you avoid some common, yet stupid, mistakes with your email and direct mail appeals, I’m going to share the email solicitation my wife received from the Rosenbach Museum and Library:

Rosenbach Email Appeal copy

Now, let’s look closely at the appeal to see where the author went wrong:

Subject Line: The subject line on the email reads, “Please support the Rosenbach!” Unless the recipient was waiting around anxiously for some way to donate to the Rosenbach, why would she even bother to open the email? The subject line tells the reader what she needs to know about the content: The Rosenbach wants money. And it either wants lots of money or needs money desperately judging from the exclamation point.

Rather than opening the email, my wife mentioned it to me because of the ridiculously bad subject line. When I asked her to open the email and read it aloud, she initially refused, saying, “We know what they want. They want money. Why bother opening it?” (By the way, we actually happen to like the Rosenbach; that’s why we’re on their email list.) I replied, “I bet the email is equally bad and that they even mention the end of their fiscal year.” So, with a sense of amusement, she opened the email.

Tip 1: Write a subject line that will entice the reader to open the email. Avoid turn-off subject lines or those that are misleading. For help writing more effective subject lines and headlines, checkout the Headline Analyzer tool.

Inappropriate Personalization: Right at the start, the author missteps. The email begins, “Dear Lisa.” Some people, particularly younger readers, might not find this problematic. However, Lisa does not know the email’s signatory, Derick Dreher. It was presumptuous of Dreher to address her by first name rather than as Mrs. Rosen or Ms. Rosen. Interestingly, adopting a less friendly and more formal style by the end of the email, Dreher signed his full name rather than just his first name.

Tip 2: When addressing people, especially strangers you want something from them, it’s generally a good idea — and always good manners — to show respect and a bit of deference. At the very least, if you’re going to use a casual salutation, be sure to match that style with a casual sign-off.

End of Fiscal Year: No one cares about the end of your fiscal year. Let me be perfectly clear: NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE END OF YOUR FISCAL YEAR! Okay, your Chief Financial Officer cares. However, your prospects and donors do not. Unfortunately, in the very first sentence of the appeal, it mentions that the Rosenbach is nearing the end of its fiscal year. If this was tied to a challenge grant that was about to expire at the end of the fiscal year, that might have been a worthwhile point to make. However, by itself, who cares?

Tip 3: Be donor centered and recognize that donors care about their own fiscal year, not yours. Unless you have a very good reason to talk about the end of your fiscal year, don’t do it.

Engagement: As if the first sentence wasn’t bad enough, the author made it even worse by referencing that Bloomsday has come to a close. There are two reasons this is a negative. First, my wife and I have no idea what “Bloomsday” is. So, why should we care about it?

Second, if Bloomsday was some sort of fun, worthwhile event, telling us about it after the fact is simply annoying and would make us feel terrible that we didn’t know about it in advance (hint, hint). Perhaps, the Rosenbach should have segmented its email list to send slightly different messages to those who did and did not participate in Bloomsday.

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May 10, 2013

Why “Ask”?

At Michael Rosen Says…, I listen to my readers. And, I even sometimes take requests.

Recently, I received an email from Anton Wishik, a professional editor who recently transitioned to the development world. I thank him for the message. He wanted to know why I insist on using the word “ask” as a noun.

The inquiry caught my attention for a number reasons:

1. As a former newspaper editor, the proper use of language continues to matter to me.

2. According to the good folks at Merriam-Webster, the word “ask” is indeed a verb, not a noun. So, Mr. Wishik has a valid point.

3. Mr. Wishik’s inquiry gives me the chance to write about one of my favorite topics: The “ask.” (Ooops, there I go again.)

With his permission, here is the email I received from Mr. Wishik:

As a longtime editor who just recently started working in the planned giving industry, I cringe at the use of the word ‘ask’ as a noun, which I had never seen/heard before. So do many other writing professionals; here’s one comment made at Merriam-Webster’s site: Marianna Zhabokritsky · Court Reporter at Ministry of the Attorney General (Ontario), ‘So ‘ask’ is now being used as a noun? ….  Please tell me that it is still considered to be an improper use of the English language! Highly irritating!’

I’m not a stuffy editor and I realize fully that the language is constantly evolving, with new words joining the lexicon almost daily. I’m not even saying that ‘ask’ shouldn’t officially join the language as a noun, much like ‘tell’ has come into wide usage as a noun from poker. Maybe the words ‘request,’ ‘query,’ or ‘solicitation’ don’t quite describe the action taken by a [Planned Giving Officer].

I see that you use ‘ask’ as a noun, and I’m sure you have an opinion on the subject — and thought you might want to blog about it!”

Well, as I’ve said, I’m happy to take requests from time to time.

To help me explore the issue of “ask” as a noun, I’ve enlisted my good friend Laura Fredricks, author of the best-selling book The Ask and the new e-book Winning Words for Raising Money. Here is what Laura had to say:

It is so common that when anyone wants anything in life…they ‘ask.’ We have grown up to ask, politely, for what we want. We don’t ‘request’ we ‘ask.’

Taking this to our professional fundraising level, we have taken the ‘ASK’ to a sophisticated level. Asking for money takes organization, structure, focus and follow up. Comparing our ‘ask’ to a ‘request,’ ‘ask’ wins hands down because it has more impact and meaning. A ‘request’ is fleeting but an ‘ask’ has presence and attention. The person being asked knows that an important decision is about to be made.”

Click here to see The Ask at The Nonprofit BookstoreI agree with Laura. When a development or sales professional puts forth an “ask,” he or she has already done a great deal of work. The prospect has been identified, educated and cultivated. The professional has evaluated the prospect’s situation and has determined the most appropriate thing to ask for.

For their part, prospects usually understand that the “ask” will likely lead to some type of negotiation rather than a simple yes/no conclusion.

The noun “ask” implies more than just the sentence making the “ask.” It refers to the sentence and everything that has led up to it.

In development, we ask for donations. So, it seems silly to me to use a word that is different from the verb when we need a noun. When we talk about the act of asking for a donation, we are talking about the “ask” not the “request” or the “query.”

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