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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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Bottom-Liners: “Tell Me What You Want Me To Do.”
Tom Ahern

February, 2004

Learn to love Bottom-Liners. For one thing, they have the fastest checkbooks in the West.

The Bottom-Liner is that impatient, finger-drumming part of your brain that mutters, "Okay, okay, I get it. Yes, you're a fine organization doing important work. So, tell me, what are you asking me to do? Please make it fast."

The Bottom-Liner is one of four personality types resident in every brain. Let's review.

Think of your audience as a head with four sets of ears, each set tuned to a different frequency.

  • The EXPRESSIVE set of ears craves the new.


  • The AMIABLE set of ears listens for warmth and human contact (and responds reflexively to the word "you").


  • The ANALYTICAL set of ears wants to have its objections answered and its fears soothed.


  • And the BOTTOM-LINER set of ears - today's topic of admiration - wants to know "what exactly do you want me to do." –lets


  • The Bottom-Liner is a bit impatient and VERY decisive. It is that part of your personality that leaps tall buildings in a single bound: "OK, I get it. Now what?"

    Someone once asked direct mail guru Jerry Huntsinger to name the minimum number of things required for a successful fundraising letter. Mr. Huntsinger said that every fundraising letter needs three things: adequate rationale (good reasons for giving), adequate emotion (a big heart), and adequate mechanics.

    By "adequate mechanics" Mr. Huntsinger means all the stuff required to move a gift from the donor's hands into your hands. In a direct mail appeal, for instance, the mechanics are the various calls to action, the gift amount you suggest in your letter, the reply envelope, the reply device, etc. Adequate mechanics are especially important for Bottom-Liners.

    Bottom-Liners are ready to give. Make it dirt simple to do so. Fast, too.

    Next time you are solicited for a gift by a favorite organization, see if you can spot your own Bottom-Liner personality taking charge.

    The sequence will probably go something like this:

    1. You recognize the organization's name on the envelope and decide right then, "Oh, I have to write them a check." Note: you haven't even opened the envelope, yet you've already made your decision to give again. The only question is how much.
    2. You put the solicitation in your "bills to pay" pile. When you do open the appeal, you skip quickly through the heart-breaking letter ("Yup. Still doing good work.") or simply throw it away. No disrespect intended, of course.. But you already believe in what the organization does.
    3. You write a check. And the question arises again: "How much should I give?"

    The answer to this predictable question is always the same: "More than you would if left to your own devices."

    I like to use reply devices (the slip of paper where the donor fills in a gift amount) as a place to dramatically emphasize one last message, a message that promotes a bigger gift. A typical example (written for RI's Fund for Community Progress, which raises money for two dozen grassroots organizations):

    Yes! I am The Fund. And today I am joining the struggle...against homelessness, hunger, disease, ignorance, fear and despair in Rhode Island.

    That's a pretty big vision. It deserves a pretty big gift. And in fact the average gift amount from that particular annual appeal turned out to be more than double what it had been the previous year.

    Here's another idea: on your reply device, circle an amount you want the donor to give.

    The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) in Washington, DC tried this. NPCA's reply device had the usual array of gift amounts: $25, $35, $50, $100, $250, "other." A circle was drawn around "$35." A note was printed below: "A $35 gift would really help."

    What happened? The average gift for that particular solicitation was around $35. Yes, people DO do what you tell them to do. The obvious tweak: next time, circle an even higher amount. (Be prepared, though: as your average gift amount rises, your number of donors will probably start to fall.)

    Last year, I attended a seminar by an expert who has had notable success doubling annual giving. Her big secret? Ask for twice as much. It always works. Ask...and you shall receive from the Bottom-Liner.

    One last bit of free advice for talking to Bottom-Liners: Make key points in as few words as possible.

    My favorite example:

    In Boston there's a charter school that uses music to help children learn basic math and reading skills. I don't know how they work their magic. All I know is this: "When she entered the third grade, she couldn't spell cat. By the end of the school year, she could spell Tchaikovsky."

    The school tells this true story to demonstrate the amazing effectiveness of its unusual teaching methods. The fact that I had to look up how to correctly spell Tchaikovsky for this newsletter speaks volumes about the school's achievement. I'm a true believer...after hearing just 21 words.

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