Jul 30, 2010

Fundraising for Charity Bores Young People?

I'm all for celebrities trying to shine their spotlight on various charitable causes, so I was happy to read reports about actor Edward Norton having started the website "Crowdrise." The site lets people post a personal page inviting friends to sponsor or support them in raising money for their favorite cause.

But check out the quote from actor/comedian Seth Rogen, who's reportedly using the site to raise money for the Alzheimer's Association: 'I'm all for anything that makes the idea of charity not lame and boring and very serious. Because I feel that that's what keeps a lot of young people away."

Huh. Do most young people find the idea of charity lame and boring? With so many of them providing voices of sanity, telling adults to stop trashing the world they'll inherit, and in many cases starting their own nonprofits, this comment stopped me short.

There's a difference, however, between starting their own nonprofits and getting on board with others. Where I'll bet Rogen is right is that young people could easily perceive the communications coming from established nonprofits as boring -- a sentiment not limited to young people, in fact.

 Here's how Ken Burnett, author of The Zen of Fundraising, pithily sums it up (in an article on SOFII):

The problem with most nonprofit communications is that they are dull. Given the abundance of colorful, dramatic, human interest material with which nonprofits are blessed, this is a shocking admission. Yet sadly it's true. Fundraisers are prolific producers of printed and electronic communications, but the bulk of it is either tedious, vacuous, fit only for the rubbish bin, or all three. Common weaknesses include too many words, limited skills in designing for readability and over emphasis on what the organization wants to say, rather than on what the reader wants to read. If you think this a little harsh, send off for the newsletters or annual reports of, say, 20 other prominent nonprofits and see if I'm wrong.

Given Mr. Burnett's bio, I believe it's appropriate to read this to yourself in a Scottish accent, in which case it sounds even better.

Accent aside, he's basically hit the nail on the head. And rather than take up more space with suggestions on how to write, I'll offer a complementary tip: Start paying attention to the work of excellent journalists writing for top newspapers and magazines. Notice what they do that draws you in, and makes even the dullest content interesting. Get those mirror neurons firing, and the task won't be as hard as it might sound.