10 books to make you a better fundraiser (part I)

Tim Connor | July 27th, 2015

Back in 2007 Steve Harrison, our generation’s greatest direct marketing creative, made an observation in his seminal book, How to do better creative work, that has never left me. At the time it seemed too ridiculous but, as I continue to notch up more years in the marketing business, he’s repeatedly proven to be scarily on the money:

“It’s a sad fact, but if you read just one book a year during the course of your career you’ll be among the top 5 per cent most learned people in the industry.”

So here’s part one of two posts, giving you my top ten recommendations for books you should not only have in your collection but keep on your desk within arm’s reach.

These are 10 tomes free of ‘ad-speak’. Each is a valuable primer on how to behave, how to work – how to live, even. Blissfully, within the covers of each and every one you’ll find lashings of common sense – nothing less, nothing more. Sound advice that you can read, chew on and practice in your work right away.

1. Changing the world is the only fit work for a grown man
by Steve Harrison

There are two groups of fundraiser: those who have never heard of Howard Luck Gossage and those who are devout believers. I’m very much in the second camp. Gossage started in commercial marketing, became disenchanted with it so started to use his talent for persuasion to champion social and charitable causes. He even came up with the name for Friends of the Earth.

Steve Harrison’s definitive portrait of a true one-off is not only a valuable guide on a much-neglected figure in advertising history. It’s a reminder that those of us fortunate enough to earn our keep in the persuasion business have a responsibility to those we communicate with. Not as clients or creatives looking for a shiny new pack to put in our portfolio, but as fellow citizens.

2. Relationship Fundraising
by Ken Burnett

Even if he were not one of the founders of our agency family, Ken Burnett’s philosophy would be still be on any essential fundraising reading list – because it begins and ends with the donor. Charities are simply the conduit, connecting members of the public with causes they care deeply about.

When we intrude, pester and behave like automatons, we trip up. But when we pause and ask ‘What would I do if I was sat across from the donor right now, sharing a cuppa?’ that’s when you write campaign briefs that engage, develop creative that moves people, and raise the kind of funds you’d only ever dreamed of.

Unapologetically optimistic, this book will rekindle your enthusiasm for fundraising at a time when many feel the sector has lost its moral compass.

3. The Advertising Effect: How to change behaviour
by Adam Ferrier 

Hats off to Rory Sutherland, former president of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, for bringing the principles of behaviour change to the attention of the marketing world. You can hardly move for books and articles on the topic now.

Only the greats – Bernbach, Caples and co. – have proven these principles to the nth degree. Many have forgotten them; too busy trying to figure out how this web thingy works…

But now there’s no excuse. Here, at last, is a slim, crystal clear guide to creating events, mail packs, adverts – you name it – using a behaviour change model. Don’t let the size of this book deceive you – everything you need to know is here, including a vital chapter on the ethics of using these techniques.

4. Tested Advertising Methods
by John Caples 

One of the things that makes a career in direct response endlessly fascinating is the ‘test and learn’ ethos at the heart of what we do. It’s more than a series of best practices to see what format, headline or lift piece wins out. It’s a philosophy that reminds you never to assume you know what is going to fly and what is going to fall on its face – because only your audience can tell you.

Caples was the master we can all learn from. So read his principles, sleep on them and get testing and learning like crazy. Bit by bit, not only will your campaign response improve but you, as a marketer, will gain invaluable real life experience of what actually gets the best results (often not the same things that win creative awards).

5. Write to Sell
by Andy Maslen

Every day of our working lives we write. Lots. So it’s understandable so many of us consider ourselves experts at the written word. Perhaps we were good at English at school. Some of us are proud grammar pedants. But most of us would make lousy copywriters. Because, as Andy Maslen pithily puts it in his introduction, copy isn’t about writing – it’s about psychology. Write for your reader or perish.

Copywriting is a woefully under-respected craft. A well-written fundraising communication can raise millions – with words alone. Given how much we obsess over the latest media and gadget, that’s a phenomenal fact to keep in mind. Read this and find out not only how, but why.

‘Til next time…

Check back soon for our remaining five essential reads. Next time, covering books from the worlds of film, advertising and psychology that can help you articulate your case for support, open your mind to what data can bring to the party and learn how the storytelling structure that made ‘Jaws’ a cinema classic can boost your fundraising.