How Statistics Can Ruin Your Fundraising Appeal Copy

When you write copy for fundraising letter or appeal it's often tempting to throw in some arresting or compelling statistics. After all, statistics can add drama, scale, and even shock value to your case for giving. However, when my Not-for-Profit clients say "We've got some really good statistics you can use". I often reply "Thanks for the warning!"

Why? - Because statistics don't always add power to your fundraising copy. In fact they often do more harm than good.

Nobel Prize winning Daniel Kahneman, Professor in judgement and decision making, said: "When people are taught surprising statistical facts about human dilemmas, their understanding of the situation does not really change. The mind does not deal well with statistics". This is why we often use descriptive imagery to bring statistical information to life, such as "10 double-decker buses parked end-to-end" or "enough people to fill Wembley stadium twice over". Visual representations resonate more powerfully than raw numbers.

The big problem is that statistical information engages the rational side of the brain rather than the emotional side. And that's not helpful, because emotional drivers motivate people to care and give more effectively than rational explanations. With this in mind, you avoid beginning or ending your appeal copy with statistical statements. Instead, make sure you start your copy with something that's reader-centric and emotionally engaging, and use emotive and visual language for your final push for support. If you really want to include some statistics as proof points, place them in the middle section of your copy, nicely sandwiched between slices of emotional copy.

Finally, try not to use more than three statistics or numerical references in a sentence or short paragraph. For example: 1,500 children under the age of three contract malaria every 24 hours. That's more than 10,000 in one week alone.

The mind has to combine and visualise all of these numerical references in order to make sense of the information you're presenting. It doesn't matter whether these figures refer to quantities, age, time or percentages, to the brain they're all types of numbers: 1,500, age 3, 24 hours, 10,000, 1 week. Most of our brains will simply give up and skip over the sentence. So the point you're trying to make completely fails to hit home.

Statistics can be a useful device to support your argument, but they rarely illuminate it. So use them sparingly and wisely.

You can hear more from Paul about how to write appeal copy that gets more people to read, care and give by attending his one-day Copywriting for Not-For-Profit Masterclass at the IDM in London.

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