Do you recognise this famous speech? Well, last time, I promised a post about Winston Churchill, so there's an enormous clue – except, of course, that isn't what he said at all.
"We will fight them on the beaches"
In 1953, Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He could write. As a politician, he spent a great deal of time persuading people he was right and persuasive writing really isn't far at all from what's at the core of good fundraising copy. So, today, some copy-writing tips from Churchill who, when you look into it, is an incredibly quotable person.
Here's one I like: "The further backward you can look, the further forward you can see" which is an explanation of why this post (and the last) take a historical approach and why SOFII is such a vital resource for fundraisers.
1. "Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all"
As Churchill demonstrated with his most famous speech, you need to say exactly what you mean if you want to reach people. Choose short words:
'Need' rather than 'require'
'Ask' rather than 'request'
'Gift' rather than 'donation'
At the same time, whether you realise it or not, you'll often be choosing the 'old words' Churchill refers too – words of Anglo-saxon rather than Latin origin.
George says, "The Saxon words have more force. If you don't believe me, try swearing with Latin-based oaths."
Well, I'll leave you to do that in your own time...
2. "If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack."
That's Churchill again. When you are writing fundraising DM, you generally have to work hard to get your reader to engage with what you've written, so there's no point in hiding away the point you want to make. When I'm training copywriters, one of the first things I tell them is not just to think about what they're writing, but how people will read it.
That means making sure that the main point you want to make is in your letter, on your donation form and any supporting information. It doesn't mean being repetitive necessarily, but finding a new way of saying what you need to say. Varying paragraphs, bolding, highlighting, underlining and annotating - these are all ways of making sure people turn their attention to what you want them to read.
3. "All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope."
Okay, so maybe there's a less obvious link to fundraising copy, but there is one - honestly. What's highlighted here is that some of the most important things can be said elegantly, in just one word. 'Freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy and hope' – these are all tremendous words. Emotive words. They sit on their own and suffer from having other words around them. It's a reminder that what we write as fundraisers shouldn't be neat, tidy and bland. It should be moving, because what we does matters.
4. "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."
Another cracker. And listening is a great way to become a better copywriter. Here's some great writers and thinkers I listen to a lot:
Ken Burnett (who could probably make a shopping list interesting to read)
Damian O'Brion (who introduced me to the idea of the copy checker)
Jeff Brooks (I love his description of good fundraising copy – 'rough' and 'dashed out')
George Smith (via his fabulous books)
And, of course, my colleague Mark Phillips, who has an annoying habit of being right.
But I also learn a lot from listening to the people who can tell you first hand about what makes a charity worth supporting.
- The people who are helped by a charity. I'm thinking about some of the young people I've met through Barnardo's, the families of a deaf and blind children with Sense and many, many more.
- Inspiring Chief Executives like Geoffrey Dennis at CARE International, Jeremy Hulme at SPANA and Richard Miller at ActionAid (to name but a few).
- The people who are doing the hard work on the ground. I've listened very carefully to field workers, social workers, vets and many others and stolen their words to describe the incredible work they do.
So if you want to be a good copywriter, don't work of pieces off paper. Meet people and listen.
5. 'I'm just preparing my impromptu remarks'
So here's my last Churchill quotation, chosen because 1. It's funny. 2. It shows that good writing comes about not by accident, but as a result of a great deal of thought.