Tuesday, January 17, 2012

NCC Fundraising Letter Gets an "F"

Sometimes politics slams into irony.

For instance, last year’s convincing Conservative Party’s victory is a double-edged sword for conservative advocacy groups. On the one hand, it helps to have a friendly government in power, but on other hand it hurts fundraising. After all, these are good times for conservatives. And good times are bad times for fundraisers. It’s more difficult to raise money when there is no sense of urgency and no sense conservative values are threatened by nasty Liberals or socialists.  In short, victory leads to complacency.

Anyway, I bring this up because somebody recently sent me a copy of the National Citizens Coalition’s fundraising “renewal” letter. It interested me because I wanted to see how the NCC was dealing with this very real fundraising challenge. Turns out the answer is -- not well.

Now let me back up a bit and note that as someone who once worked for the NCC I can tell you the renewal letter, which goes out in early January, is the group’s most important fundraising letter of the year. It can make or break the group’s budget. Consequently, the renewal letter must sparkle. It has to really rock the donors. That’s why in my day we used to literally spend weeks honing and polishing its message with agonizing re-write after re-write.

Unfortunately, this 2012 NCC renewal letter looks like it was scribbled out in about 20 minutes. In fact, it fails on just about every level a fundraising letter can fail: It fails stylistically, it fails ideologically and it fails as piece of political communication.

To see what I mean check out my analysis below. I have reproduced the letter in its entirety with my comments in bold font. But be warned: The NCC letter is painful to read. So if you wish to avoid any possible trauma skip to the bottom for the page for my summation.

With that caveat out of the way, let’s start:

Dear NCC supporter, 

This past year has certainly been a remarkable one for Canada, yet 2012 promises to be a year full of both global and national challenges.

For the past several years, when I have sat down to write out my end of year reflections on the state of politics in our country I have been beset by certain doubts.  Year after year of minority governments and constant instability in Ottawa meant that anyone looking for meaningful change had better be prepared for an uphill battle.

The first paragraph in a direct mail pitch is always the most important. A bad opening could cause a busy and distracted reader to toss the letter in the nearest trash can.  Unfortunately for the NCC this opening is trite and fails to pull the reader in. If anything it’s jarring and confusing.  To see what I mean just re-read the first few sentences. It begins with a line about 2012 promising “to be a year full of both global and national challenges” which leads me as a reader to expect the next sentence will elaborate as to what kind of challenges?  Instead, the focus of the letter abruptly changes. Suddenly the writer is talking about the stability of past minority governments. Do you see the problem? Unless a letter seamlessly and logically flows from one idea to the next you risk losing a reader or at the very least aggravating him. Also where’s the drama? You need to inspire your supporters at the onset not lecture them on the history of minority governments.

Even a “standard template” opening like this would work better:

Dear NCC Supporter:

The past year was one of the most successful years in the NCC’s long history.

In a year that saw many challenges and opportunities the NCC made a difference, standing up for your values.

And it’s all thanks to your loyal and generous support. We could not have done it without you!

The National Citizens Coalition persevered through it all, and with your steadfast support we helped make sure the economy was front and centre in last May’s federal election.

The result? Canadians elected a strong majority government. Now, as we look towards the coming year, will this government truly be more conservative? Will they show the strength to reduce spending, reduce taxes and tackle the looming crisis of skyrocketing healthcare budgets?

Lots of fuzzy language here. The writer says the NCC “persevered through it all”. What does that mean? I suppose it means the NCC managed to survive during the minority years? That may be true but it’s hardly a great claim to mobilize donors: “Hey look at us we persevered! Send us your money!”  Also it’s here we get the first mention of an NCC accomplishment from the previous year: “We helped make sure the economy was front and centre in last May’s federal election?” Interesting claim, but vague. And when it comes to raising money vagueness doesn’t work. You need to provide concrete accomplishments or some sort of clear victories.  Also, NCC supporters don’t care about the “economy”, they care about fiscal responsibility, smaller government, individual freedom. What I mean is when speaking to ideologically-oriented donors like NCC supporters you need to use ideological language. And speaking of vagueness to say the NCC kept the economy “front and centre” is also meaningless. Be more specific. Did the NCC run TV ads, did it sponsor national debates, did it set up a website? We don’t know because the letter doesn’t tell us. Donors aren’t mind readers. You can’t assume they know what the NCC did over the past year. The writer then goes on to make a completely unsubstantiated claim about the NCC’s actions leading to a “strong majority government.” (I guess the Conservatives had nothing to do with it.) And by the way NCC supporters are small “c” conservatives, meaning they don’t necessarily like the term “strong government”. In fact, strong government scares conservatives. So why use that language? A sure sign the writer is politically tone deaf. At any rate, what’s really important is that so far this letter has done nothing to really rouse any sort of emotion in the reader. And it’s emotion that spurs contributions. That’s why a good fundraising letter of this sort will start off boasting about all the group’s great successes in the previous year and how it made a difference. This is followed with something like: “But much more needs to be done in the upcoming year, the fight has just begun, we still face serious obstacles to attaining our goals, etc. etc.”

Canada is facing numerous challenges this year – including a global credit crisis, the danger of a new recession, a precipitously declining neighbour in the United States, and instability across Europe and much of the world. Our federal government has a great deal of work ahead in order to protect hard-working Canadians, our families, and our economic opportunities. It is time for action. 

Again suddenly the letter shifts focus. It went from talking about needing more conservative policies to “Canada is facing numerous challenges”. And what does a “precipitously declining neighbour  in the United States” actually mean? But here’s the real problem: the letter talks about our federal government having a great deal of work ahead of it. OK true enough but I thought this was a letter about the NCC? Why talk about what the government has to do? As a donor I want to know what the NCC will do. Then it says it’s a “time for action” but offers no hint as to what kind of action.

If you have already renewed your support for this year - thank you! On behalf of all Canadians, your donation is greatly appreciated. Please consider forwarding this email on to others whoe believe in the principles of responsible fiscal management in our government.

This is odd. Why is the letter writer speaking on “behalf of all Canadians”?  Do all Canadians care about the NCC? Also “who” is spelled wrong. It’s unprofessional to send out a letter with these sorts of errors; it undermines the confidence of donors. If I can’t trust you to proof read a letter how can I trust you with my money? Anyway, the letter changes course yet again as it presents a list for no apparent reason.

Fiscal Accountability: This government has pledged to balance the federal budget by 2015-2016 – one year ahead of the Parliamentary Budget Office’s earliest estimates. We have been holding their feet to the fire to disclose how they plan to achieve this – and to implement their plan without delay. Balancing the budget is this government’s most important task, and there is no excuse for keeping their plan hidden from taxpayers. Taxpayers gave this government a majority to enable them to make the difficult decisions and reduce government spending dramatically. In fact, this is the platform they ran on – any stalling or backpedaling will cost them their credibility.

See how the letter loses an opportunity to stir up passion? When discussing fiscal policy the letter states if the Conservatives don’t cut spending it will hurt their “credibility”. In other words, we need fiscally responsible policies not because it’s good for the country or good for taxpayers or good for Canada’s future, but because it’s good for the Conservative Party.  The NCC should be speaking about values at this point, not about crass political calculation. Better: “I don’t want my children to grow up in a country where they are burdened with high taxes and crushing debt ….”

Privatize the CBC: Earlier this year we launched a campaign to address public funding for the CBC – funding which amounts to more than $1.1-billion each and every year. We have launched a petition that allows signatories to add their names with thousands of other Canadians that would like to ‘opt out’ of funding the CBC. The entire CBC television arm should be privatized and sold off immediately – there is simply no longer any need for a national broadcaster. CBC television unfairly competes with the private sector for advertising dollars and has repeatedly refused to be transparent about its finances. Since taxpayers are paying their bills, this is unacceptable. While CBC radio still has a place in many communities, it is CBC television that receives the lion’s share of public funds without producing relevant content or maintaining accountability.

OK, when writing a letter to NCC supporters you can’t go wrong bashing the CBC. And finally we get a mention of a specific NCC action in 2011 – a petition. But no boasting about its success. How many people signed it? Did it make news? Did the left-wing attack the NCC for it? We just don’t know.

Protect the right to own private property: This year the NCC has also been pressing hard for much-needed change to the appalling state of property rights in Canada. It is unbelievable that our Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not protect property rights in Canada – in fact, we do not even have a unified legal definition of property! Without clear legal protection, provincial and federal governments alike routinely infringe on Canadians’ property rights under the auspices of legislation focusing on the environment, energy or any number of other seemingly unrelated issues. 

This is happening right now to property owners in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.  We have been tackling this issue head on at the provincial level to fight against each of these transgressions, but we must see action at the federal level to ensure basic property rights are enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Protecting property rights is a good issue. But again what exactly did the NCC do to protect these rights? Ad campaigns? Media appearances? It’s all a secret.

Reform Healthcare spending: Overall healthcare spending in 2012 is set to top $200-billion for the first time. If this government is serious about reducing spending, a national strategy is needed to find efficiencies and drive these costs down. It is long past time to remove unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and provide Canadians with the healthcare we deserve - at a price we can afford.

Every year, healthcare spending accounts for a larger percentage of each tax dollar collected in Canada – this is the result of our provincial and federal governments approving budget increases of 6% or more each year.  Unfortunately, more and more of this money is being spent supporting Canada’s bloated bureaucracies instead of being used to improve actual services for Canadians. We must drastically reduce the size of our healthcare bureaucracy if we hope to improve the quality healthcare available to Canadians.

As of 2011, healthcare spending in Ontario has already surpassed 50% of total government spending. British Columbia and Alberta will reach the 50% mark by 2017, yet hospital wait times are increasing and services continue to decline. A recent study by the Fraser institute found that waiting times for surgery are at an all-time high across the country. It is not hard to determine where these budget increases are going – Canada has more than 10x as many healthcare bureaucrats when compared to similar countries around the world.

The National Citizens Coalition has been working hard to see healthcare budgets built from scratch each year, which would prevent wasteful spending. We simply cannot afford to increase healthcare spending by 6% year after year. Canada desperately needs the political will to reduce our healthcare bureaucracy before our standards of care plummet any further.

OK but what did the NCC do to fix health care? What will it do in 2012 to make a difference? Give me a bone here people. If I am going to part with my hard earned money I need some evidence that my money will be use for something besides paying NCC salaries. Also, and this goes for all the above points, a fundraising letter is not the place to explain why something is wrong. You should assume NCC supporters already support private property rights, a privatized CBC and fiscal responsibility. So why waste time and space trying to convince them? You risk boring the reader. Instead, get right into it. “The NCC plans to launch a nation-wide multi-media blitz to push our politicians to…..whatever.” Also a good idea to include a draft copy of an ad. People like to see the tangible ways their money will be spent.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has been working hard to show Canadians that his government intends to keep its election promises.  We have seen important legislation introduced in several key areas, including the long-gun registry, union transparency legislation, and ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly on western grain. This action has helped give this government some much needed momentum, because we know the hard work did not end with the election.

This is blatant Harper cheerleading. As a “non-partisan” organization the NCC is supposed to treat all political parties equally. But aside from the organizational ethics praising Harper in this way is a bad fundraising tactic. Think about it. If I am reading this letter I would be tempted to give money directly to the Conservative Party and cut out the middleman. Plus making Harper too much of a hero now will make it more difficult to raise money if you need to criticize him down the road. Also for years and years the dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly was a big issue for the NCC. Why just credit Harper with its demise? Why not claim this is an example of a huge NCC success!! 

Please visit our website at www.nationalcitizens.ca for more information on all of these issues and many more – you can renew your support for the NCC by clicking here with our easy to use donation system. You can even make additional donations directly to the campaigns of your choice!

As you can see, there is a great deal on the line this year and this is why I am asking for your generous support once more. There is no other organization like the National Citizens Coalition – together, our thousands of supporters all across the country help shape each of our campaigns from the ground up. This is why, with your help, we are able to have such an impact and protect the best interests of hard-working Canadians.

We must continue to stand strong together, and the most effective way to do this is to continue your support of the National Citizens Coalition.

Amazingly no real reason is given to make a donation except that “there is no other organization like the National Citizens Coalition.” This is pure laziness by the writer. I mean come on, if you want to convince people to part with their money you need to inspire them! Tell them they are helping to make the country a freer, better place! Remind them that they have an important role to play in pushing Canada in the right direction!

This year, the National Citizens Coalition was featured in more media appearances than ever before – in a remarkably wide variety of programs and publications. Our influence is constantly expanding and our voice is strong because the NCC has been championing the basic rights and freedoms of Canadians from our inception in 1967.

This is a dubious claim. If anything the NCC has virtually disappeared from the national radar. Certainly, the NCC achieved much more significant press coverage back in the 1990s. But OK for the sake of argument let’s assume the NCC did garner great media coverage in 2011. That doesn’t of itself mean anything. The NCC should be about getting results not mentions in the media. But if you do feel the need to crow about media attention at least cite examples of this great coverage. And how is the NCC’s influence expanding?

We need your support now more than ever before – 2012 is going to be a critical year for Canada and the world. Please continue your steadfast support, and together we can ensure that the coming year is one that delivers for taxpayers. I look forward to the challenges that await us, because so much is now within reach.

What does “delivers for taxpayers” mean?  Better: "With your financial support, the NCC can continue to provide a strong voice for your values and for your freedoms!”

A donation of $35 dollars or more will qualify you for our quarterly Freedom Watch publication and exclusive website content. You will be kept up to date on all our campaigns and political commentary from all across the country. All donations of $135 or more will also qualify you for our most celebrated publication – the National Citizens Review. The National Citizens Review features journalistic content from some of Canada’s top political minds, and it is all available exclusively to our supporters.

A very weak ask. You should say something like “Please make your most generous contribution possible … $500, $200, $100, $35...your support will make a difference!” In fact, it’s kind of strange that no where in this letter does the writer actually come out and say “Please donate money.” Subtlety rarely works in fundraising.

Thank you very much for continuing to stand with us and especially for sharing your feedback and ideas. We will always listen to your concerns and together we will help Canada continue to prosper for generations to come.

Peter Coleman
President and CEO
National Citizens Coalition
P.S.  Join with thousands of other like-minded Canadians all across the country – renew your support of the NCC today! Your support will send a clear message to politicians across the country that the NCC will be as strong as ever in 2012. And believe me – your support makes a big difference. You are helping make Canada a better place for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. That is something to be proud of.

The PS is actually the best part of the letter. It’s concise and to the point. It would have been better had the NCC scrapped the previous 1,000 words and only sent out the PS!

Overall, this letter is not only a disaster, but it’s a disaster that never seems to end. It goes on forever. This would not be so bad if the letter was well written and structured. But it’s just a hodgepodge of ideas and issues thrown together willy nilly. But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is it lacks heart. It has zero emotion. In fact, it reads like it was written by an accountant. It’s all about government efficiency and savings and waste and what a wonderful job the Tory government is doing. The letter writer just doesn't understand the psychology of giving. Nor, apparently, does he understand how conservatives think. Indeed, what I find truly astounding is this letter does not even mention the words “freedom” or “liberty”.  Remember the NCC is an ideological organization committed to defending and promoting freedoms; political freedom, economic freedom, individual freedom. How can you send out a multi-page letter and not talk about freedom? It’s mind-boggling. Imagine the Ford Motor Company sending out a newsletter that did not talk about cars. To be successful raising money the NCC needs to push ideological hot buttons: freedom, free enterprise, small government, strong families, etc. What I am trying to say is good political writing is like poetry. It’s an art that evokes a reaction, a reaction that hopefully opens up wallets. This letter is the opposite of art. It’s trash.

Also, if you can't or won't take shots at the Conservatives then at least villainize their enemies.  This letter should have said something like, “Stephen Harper wants to set this country back on the right track. But standing in his way are the big union bosses, the left-wing media and the craven opposition politicians. They will resist Harper’s agenda every step of the way. That’s why we need a strong, well-funded NCC to stand up for our precious freedoms. Only the NCC can take on the forces of the left and win. Only the NCC can make sure Canadians hear the real story etc. etc.” It would also help if you could cite left wing  union bosses or politicians attacking the NCC. When a community comes under attack it’s members instinctively rally to the defence. Use that to your advantage NCC!!

Then there are the stylistic problems: too many long sentences, too much passive language, lack of strong verbs, poor phrasing.

To sum up, this letter just doesn’t resonate with a reader. NCC supporters are hard-core, right wing conservatives. They care about certain ideals and values. And if you can’t connect to them on with emotional and values-oriented language you won’t connect with them at all. You certainly won’t get them reaching for their wallets with a vague, boring, badly penned, sterile pitch.  Whoever wrote this letter didn’t feel the need to put any effort or thought into the message.

It’s too bad. Canada could use a strong well-funded voice for freedom.

At any rate, if anybody from the NCC reads this feel free to use my ideas --- for a fee!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The NCC has become sad....pathetic...irrelevant. Gerry, let them fade away to the abyss. Using some of your ideas may allow them to cling on for another year or so. Really...who needs that?