Should you outsource your appeal writing this year-end season? Maybe, maybe not.
The year-end fundraising season is heating up! Time to sharpen your pencils and craft those appeals that will move your donors, right? But what if you’re swamped? Not a great writer? Outsourcing some aspects of your fundraising?
Big Duck often works with nonprofits who need help with fundraising campaigns, but many organizations don’t have the budget to pass off every aspect of their campaign to a consultant, and others have great in-house capacity that’s smart to leverage, too.
When should you keep the writing for your campaign in-house? When is it smarter to outsource to a writer or agency? Here’s what we’ve learned from helping our clients wrestle with these questions.
When to use internal staff
A nonprofit’s staff knows its mission, its language, its voice, and its community best. With all that already in their head, nonprofit communications staff may be able to knock out content that works well for your organization with relative ease.
If you’re reading this and saying, “That’s sounds like my organization,” the next thing you should ask yourself is, “Are any of my staff truly writers?” And, “Are they the right kind of writers?” Many (most?) nonprofit staff wear a lot of different hats, some of which they are more suited to than others. That applies to different types of writing—someone who can craft great major donor asks or direct mail appeals may not have the skill set or expertise to write for email and social media, or to produce a cohesive multi-channel campaign with a strong narrative arc and theme that plays out across all components and channels.
Further, producing effective fundraising copy takes a good amount of mental space and concentration. So, even if you have a good writer with the right kind of writing experience, it is worth considering if she will be able to dedicate the necessary time.
When to use a consultant
Consultants will guarantee a certain quality because they use (or are) professional writers. They should dedicate the time your content needs because that is exactly what you’re paying them to do!
An external writer or agency is also more likely than staff, who are in the weeds with your cause every single day, to find a surprising angle or add fresh new energy that will make your campaign more dynamic—and can even serve as a model to help re-energize your organization’s content beyond one campaign. And their ”outsider” perspective often helps them express your work in simpler terms that make it easier for donors to get it.
Part of what external writers get paid for is to quickly build the expertise needed to produce strong appeals, so the level of intimacy they have at the outset with a nonprofit’s issues typically shouldn’t be a major roadblock. But if a nonprofit’s work and the issues it confronts are highly nuanced—and its audiences are the kind that will pay close attention to fine, even academic, points of its language—it may be important to find the right person or to make sure they will work closely with internal staff to get the details right.
How to make the call
The decision often comes down to two things, assuming budget isn’t an issue. First, whether you have a good writer on staff with the relevant experience and bandwidth needed to tackle the task, and how much you’re looking to push the way you communicate with this campaign.
Depending on the specifics of your campaign, these questions may weigh on you differently. For example, if your campaign will consist of a single letter, it may be easy enough to just take care of it in-house, and bringing in a new perspective on one appeal might provide limited long-term value. But if you are producing a more complex multi-channel campaign, with multiple components that need to be versioned for a set of audience segments—it may be a gamechanger to work with an agency or other pro that is able to write for each context while weaving in a theme that helps make your case stronger with every appeal.
Of course, the decision may not feel easy or obvious even if you easily fit into one of these scenarios, and in the end the choice is often something of a leap of faith. But, the issues outlined here will help you weigh the pros and cons, and come to the decision that feels best for you.