Search TXNP
txnp temp ad

< More How to's

Monday, March 27, 2017

Share: facebooktwitterdigg

The Verbatim Rule
Tom Ahern

September, 2011

Jeff Brooks dropped me a line...

 

"Is it true you have a clause in your contract that clients can't change copy? I had dinner with Kivi and she told me that. I find it a bit hard to believe, but it sure would be a blow for fundraising sanity!"

 

I replied... 

 

Jeff, I don't have contracts. Mostly, I have verbal agreements. But, yes, what Kivi said is true enough.

 

A couple of years ago, I decided to try a new approach with any new client inquiring about direct mail.

 

"I have one stipulation," I'd tell them. "If we work together, you have to send out what I write verbatim. After all, it's my neck on the line, as far as reputation and results go. And you're coming to me because you do not have this expertise in-house."

 

The first organization exposed to the Verbatim Rule was a state university in Texas that had been in and out of direct mail without great results.

 

I told them my terms. They said, Sure.

 

But ... clever pessimist that I am ... I expended 10 minutes knocking out the opening few paragraphs of an alumni appeal, which I then emailed to the university, with a note saying, "I will want your president to sign something like this. This is the tone."

 

The pitch was hard core. It also got right to the point: in universities, greatness and the rate of annual alumni giving are directly related. The letter pulled no punches.

 

Within 48 hours I heard back from the person who'd made the inquiry, "How much do we owe you for your time so far?"

 

"Not a penny," I replied. Frankly, it was a relief that the university had backed out. We'd just saved ourselves the nastiness of a lousy client-vendor relationship.

 

Actually, though, the Verbatim Rule has proven surprisingly popular with new clients.

 

It just makes sense. They know they'll get my strongest work. And I don't have to fret about whether staff and board will "like" that work or not. Bottom line: everyone's much happier.

 

To what do we owe this blow for sanity?

 

A major client taught me the Verbatim Rule by accident.

 

For a bunch of years, I've written the direct mail for a big urban hospital system.

 

And I noticed something early on: the manager of the program never changed a word of what I wrote. In fact, if she DID want to change a word in my appeal, she'd call me first to see if I thought that was okay.

 

I realized that the hospital was treating my appeals as delicate mechanisms that might easily break if meddled with.

 

Which is exactly the right attitude to take: successful direct mail is incredibly fragile.

 

It was a blazing light bulb moment: "My word, this is the way it's supposed to be! When you work with professionals who know their trade, you don't second guess their work. I mean, I don't second-guess my master electrician, do I? No. So why would an untrained nonprofit second-guess a direct mail writer with a good track record?"

 

And, yet, do they ever.... 

 

The nonprofit industry is flush with second-guessers (boards and EDs who overstep their knowledge base). The most common complaint I get from fundraisers attending my workshops is this: "I believe you. But my boss won't let me do it your way."

 

I've told this story before: I had a private school fundraiser in Australia come up after a seminar and pour her heart out. Her problem? Her headmaster would not let her use a PS in direct mail because he deeply felt it was "undignified."

 

It was the end of a long day. It was Australia, where you can be a bit blunter. My response (verbatim) was, "On this point, he's a moron. And uninformed about eye-motion studies. You should find a new job where they appreciate your knowledge."

 

I was delighted to hear from her several months later: she HAD found a new job, with a national charity that basically said, "You're the expert. We're not going to get in your way. Do everything you can to make us money."

 

Happy endings. Visit www.aherncomm.com



rss 

Your TXNP Weekly E-Newsletter is made possible by the generosity of:

FROST in many Texas cities
THE SID RICHARDSON FOUNDATION in Fort Worth


TXNP Professional Members Are Dedicated to Texas and Texans.

Aurora Grants & Consulting |Dawson Murray Teague Communications | ELITE Research | FOR THE PHILANTHROPIST | Graystone Consulting | J A Churchill Associates | John F. Lewis PC | McConnell & Jones LLC






Sign up for your personal TXNP E-Newsletter

at-t Meadows Foundation express news HOBLITZELLE FOUNDATION v greenly zachry foundation w b h b bank of america southwest airlines Sid W. Richardson Foundation forst