I’m so excited to share this interview with you! I interviewed Jules Brown! He is a professional direct response copywriter specializing in the creation of highly persuasive fundraising campaigns for charities and non-profits. Over the last four years his work has raised more than US$16 million worth of funds for leading charities, NGOs and community groups worldwide.
His blog, Dear Joan, is dedicated to helping smaller nonprofits write truly donor focused appeals that get better results and raise more money for your cause.
Mazarine: How did you get involved with copywriting for direct mail fundraising?
Jules: I’ve always worked in advertising and marketing. I migrated towards direct marketing pretty early on, influenced by the likes of Drayton Bird and John Fraser-Robinson.
I spent the early part of my career as an account handler but always had a secret desire to work on the creative side. Specifically as a copywriter.
During the 90s I became very disillusioned with the commercial agency world. Eventually I left my job, sold up, went to live in France for three years. I came home determined to a). write for a living, and b). do my bit to make the world a better place.
Initially I worked as a freelance journalist, writing mainly for national Sunday newspapers. Then an opportunity in fundraising came along when I pitched for and won the role of lead freelance copywriter for an excellent not-for-profit DM agency in Dublin, Ireland. At that point, you could say, I found my calling.
Mazarine: You’ve written fundraising campaigns for nonprofits in several different countries, how does fundraising direct mail in other countries differ from the US?
Jules: By and large direct mail fundraising is no different from one country to the next.
I’ve written copy that’s run in the USA, the UK, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand the Middle East and South East Asia, and one thing shines through: no matter where you go, donors are much the same — people who care.
Of course, someone in Thailand may well give for different reasons to someone in Tennessee. But then a cat rescue supporter in Tennessee will probably be giving for different reasons to a medical research supporter who also lives in Tennessee.
The key point is that the fundamentals of good direct mail copywriting hold true no matter where you are: understand your donor, craft appeals that make your donor the hero, and connect your donor with your beneficiary.
Mazarine: Do people in some counties give more than others?
Jules: I’m fortunate enough to do most of my work in some of the most giving counties in the world. According to the World Giving Index produced by the Charities Aid Foundation, the most philanthropic nations are:
1. Australia & New Zealand (joint 1st)
3. Ireland & Canada (joint 3rd)
5. USA & Switzerland (joint 5th)
But again, I don’t think too much should be read into this kind of research. For any non-profit, large or small, the only group of people that really matters is your donor base. It’s how responsive they are to your fundraising communications that counts, nothing else.
I have found that non-profits in smaller countries enjoy better response rates and ROI figures. I don’t have any quantitative data to support the reasons for this, but I think it’s a function of market and database size.
I believe that smaller nonprofits with smaller donor bases enjoy a closer relationship with their donors. A small local charity is more relevant, more immediate, and closer to their individual supporters, than say a global organisation with hundreds of thousands of donors. And consequently, they can achieve very impressive results.
Mazarine: Do you think this can help smaller non-profits?
Jules: Yes, I believe being local, being specific, being relevant, presents smaller charities with a special advantage — if they apply the fundamentals well.
Sadly, because smaller non-profits often don’t have the money to buy top quality direct response fundraising advice — they are often not applying the fundamentals very well.
Often they try hard too hard look or seem ‘different’ to the big players, when what they should really be doing is learning from them.
My advice to the development directors of small non-profits would be to stop looking for something brand new to turn your fundraising around — look instead at the fundamentals. Are you applying the tried, tested and proven techniques that successful direct marketers and fundraisers have been talking about for decades?
If not, make a start.
There’s a wealth of information out there on the web to help you do this and do it well. Including of course, websites like Wild Woman Fundraising.
(Aw Thanks Jules!)
But my top five recommendations would be to make sure you do the following:
- Ask well, ask strong and ask often
- Don’t write short copy — long copy pulls better results
- Don’t try to tell your donor about everything you do in one go — tackle one issue at a time, and repeat your winners.
- Find a strong case study that demonstrates your work well for every appeal send out.
- And don’t talk about yourself — talk about your beneficiaries and how your donor is the key to changing their lives.
Mazarine: Would you follow up a direct mail piece with an email and if so, why?
Jules: Absolutely. If you have an email address — definitely use it for a follow up appeal. As to why, the main reason is that your donor may well be more responsive to email than printed mail. The only way to find out is to use it. Additionally, appealing via two different channels spreads your chance of catching your donor at an opportune moment, or in the right frame of mind.
Mazarine: Do you advocate buying mailing lists or do you counsel nonprofits to grow their lists organically?
Jules: I’m not a great fan of cold lists. Experience has shown that there are other more cost effective recruitment channels than cold mail.
Part of the problem is the quality of the data you’re buying. There’s nothing worse than becoming the Nth appeal sent to a tired old list of people fed up with charitable solicitations.
That said — the golden rule applies: if you test it and it works for you, keep doing it. And keep trying to do it better.
Thank you Jules for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog, I’ve certainly learned a lot, and I hope my readers have too! If you have a question for Jules, please leave a comment below, or ask him on Twitter @dearjoannet.