Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Anatomy of a Bad Fundraising Letter

Recently somebody passed along to me a year-end fundraising appeal from the federal New Democratic Party. I found it offensive, not for ideological reasons, but because it was a poorly written, poorly constructed letter. In fact, to my mind it utterly failed as direct mail fundraising material. Why do I say that? Well see below. I have reproduced the letter, with my commentary in bold font:
My Fellow New Democrat,

At the end of the year, all parties assess what they’ve accomplished in the last 12 months. For New Democrats, this year – there were many. But I would like to start by talking about what Canadians accomplished.

Quite simply, 2011 is the year Canadians changed Ottawa. Forever.

OK I am sorry but this is really a lame beginning for a fundraising letter: It’s boring. And that’s a killer, because the first paragraph of a direct mail pitch has to be like the lede of a news story; it has to grab your attention, make you want to read on or at least make some sort of emotional connection with the reader. But this opening just doesn’t cut it.  It’s just vague and uninspiring. Who cares about what “Canadians accomplished”? Heck, they are not even talking about what the NDP accomplished. What would make for a better opening? Well just about anything really, but most obviously, they should have invoked Jack Layton and his legacy:

My Fellow New Democrat:

As you know our party and our nation suffered a great loss this year with the passing of Jack Layton.

I am sure, like me, you miss him greatly.

But working together we can keep his memory alive forever by building on the wonderful legacy he left for our party. That’s why I am writing you today.

Blah, blah, blah.

Invoking Layton in the first sentence this way would have packed an emotional wallop.   

On May 2, four and a half million Canadians took a good look at Ottawa. And they didn’t like what they saw. The ongoing scandals… the divisive politics… and how little was being done to help Canadian families.

Canadians saw a place where Liberal and Conservative insiders got all the breaks. While Canadian families were left to fend for themselves.

They said Ottawa was broken.

And they put their trust in New Democrats to fix it. To bring change that would finally put families first.

The above paragraphs are nothing but political spin. There is a time and place for that kind of propaganda, of course, but that place is not a fundraising letter. First off, everybody knows the Conservatives actually won the election, so it’s a real stretch to suggest Canadians put their trust in the NDP to “fix” anything.  That’s not say the NDP shouldn’t brag, they absolutely should, but a good fundraising pitch needs grounding in reality. In the case of the NDP they should have focused on the big political news story of the year: the NDP’s amazing breakthrough in Quebec. That was huge. And it was real. Why not make that a focal point of the letter?

New Democrats have already started delivering on that promise of change.

The New Democrat team and I need your help to keep moving Canada forward. Please make an urgent donation of $50, $100 – or whatever you can afford – right now.

As I’m sure you’ve seen, some of the change Ottawa desperately needed happened right after the 2011 election. Because of New Democrats, Canada now has:

A record number of women in Parliament.

A record number of young, dynamic leaders.

The first Parliament with an average age of under 50.

A new tone in Parliament – an accomplishment that unfortunately too many other parties have not felt necessary to copy.

An Opposition that unites progressive Canadians from every region of the country – including, for the first time in a generation, a plurality of Quebecers.

A party that is committed to putting the old divisions aside and working together to build a better Canada.

Is it just me or is this a weak list of accomplishments?  Some are even dubious, ie “A new tone in Parliament”. (Paging Pat Martin) But there is a bigger problem here and this gets to the heart of why this is a bad fundraising letter. When it comes to seeking donations for a political cause, focusing on the positive accomplishments of your side is less important than illuminating the danger posed by the other side. In short, a good fundraising letter makes the reader afraid. Why? Simple. If donors are thinking rationally, they are less likely to hand over their hard earned dollars to a political party.  Think about it. Would you rather give money to a political party that has a “record number of women in Parliament” or to a charity that’s fighting cancer or some other disease that might kill you? Fear works. My point is, the goal should be to get readers reacting emotionally.That’s why you want to take aim at the heart, not the brain. In this case the NDP should be ringing the alarm bells about the scary dangers posed by the extreme right-wing Harper government. The letter should make it clear only a strong, vigorous and of course well funded NDP can stop this Harper menace.

But perhaps the biggest change has only been seen more recently.

For the first time, as we move towards the next election, Canadians now have a clear choice in direction for our country.

A choice between the Conservative’s fend-for-yourself inaction on job creation, and the New Democrats’ focus on helping small businesses and targeted action to help the job creators.

That’s a clear choice.

On pensions.

The Conservatives want Canadians to roll the dice with even more of their retirement savings – on failing stock markets. New Democrats want to strengthen the public pensions Canadians can rely on in tough times.

That’s a clear choice.

On Health Care.

Conservatives are already backing out of their one commitment on healthcare. A promise to maintain the 6% escalator on funding. New Democrats think the healthcare of Canadian families should always be a priority – in good times and bad.

That’s a clear choice.

On lifting First Nations families out of poverty.

Conservatives have completely turned their backs on aboriginal families. Blaming the community, passing the buck, not taking any responsibility for years of underfunding. New Democrats have shown that we want to work with First Nations communities, build a new relationship based on respect and trust, and work towards ensuring no Canadian families gets left behind.

Admittedly the NDP letter does try to raise a bit of fear about the Tories in this next part of the letter. But it’s half-hearted. Consider this sentence: “Conservatives are already backing out of their one commitment on healthcare”. Yawn. That kind of tepid language won’t motivate anybody. Better: “Prime Minister Harper seems determined to wreck Canada’s beloved health care system with his dangerous big-business-friendly, right wing agenda.”

That’s a clear choice – and as you know, a commitment I personally hold very dear to my heart.

So today I’m asking you to make a very special donation to Canada’s New Democrats. With your help, we can continue fighting to make life better for Canadian families – every single day.

Canadians also have a clear choice on the caliber of the team they want fighting for them.

6 years into government, Stephen Harper’s team remains an embarrassment. Tony Clement. Bev Oda. Peter Mackay. John Duncan. Peter Kent.

I will put my front benches up against this crew any day. Our united team is matched only by the caliber of the candidates from across the country who are running to be our new Party leader.

Check out the above paragraphs. Do you know what’s truly amazing about them? When recounting the litany of Tory villains they don’t single out who should be the biggest villain of all, namely, Stephen Harper! In fact, incredibly the letter only mentions Harper once in passing! This is crazy. It’s like Star Wars without Darth Vader or Batman without the Joker. I mean, let’s face it, for NDP donors the Prime Minister must be number one on their list of political bad guys. So why waste time on relative non-entities like Oda, Duncan and Kent? Why not use antipathy toward Harper to squeeze dollars out of wallets. Yes I know that sounds awful. But here’s the reality: if you want to raise dollars in politics you must invoke raw and powerful emotions. And the two most raw emotions are hate and fear. That’s why Harper should have been the star of the letter. The theme would be simple: “Here are ten reasons why Harper is the devil. Only the NDP can stop him. Send cash!”

On issue after issue, Canadians now have a clear choice between an out-of-touch Conservative government that will always put well-connected friends and insiders at the front of the line. And a New Democrat team that will ensure families come first, and nobody is left behind.

That was the core of Jack Layton’s values. The core of his dream for a better Canada. A Canada built on hope, optimism, perseverance and the rock solid belief that by working together, there is no challenge we cannot overcome.

Finally they mention Layton!! Too little, too late.

The outpouring we saw upon Jack Layton’s passing showed us something we all knew. These values are Canadian values. His dream for a better Canada is a Canadian dream.

New Democrats will never let that dream die. As we enter a New Year, that light remains as strong as ever.

And so there remains much work to be done.

We can build a better Canada – but I need your help to make it happen. Please make a generous contribution to Canada’s New Democrats today.

Together, we will defeat the Conservatives in 2015.

And what’s with talking about defeating the Conservatives in 2015? In a fundraising letter you need to build up a sense of urgency. “I am writing you this letter because we need your support RIGHT NOW for some important-sounding reason.”

And we will carry on Jack Layton’s legacy by forming a New Democrat government that will always put Canadian families – first.

Oh, this letter lacks one other essential money-raising ingredient: guilt. A good closing would have been something like: “Jack Layton always counted on your support in the past, so I know you will want to help ensure his legacy for the future. Please don’t let Jack down.”

Nycole Turmel
Canada’s New Democrats

Now maybe this letter will raise money. That’s fine. But my point is a better letter would have raised a heck of a lot more. 

1 comment:

Scott MacNeil said...

I have to agree with your assessment. A hamfisted fund raising appeal this is awkward, annoying, ad hoc, and awful. The fact is was not vetted by a more agile wordsmith is (if one is an NDP supporter)worrisome. While I rarely agree with your politics, in this particular instance your take is on the money. Cheers.