Did you ever find yourself being asked in the middle of a presentation if you have anything in writing? Or did you ever attempt to sell a refrigerator or stereo when the customer asked if you have a brochure with the specifications?

As you read these lines, I have the zechus of presenting at the “Raising the Bar” Fundraising Seminar in Tarrytown, NY. Bli neder, I’ll have a complete wrap-up of this amazing conference for Yated’s loyal readership next week. But to put the questions raised above into context, I have learned from experience that anything that’s put into writing and if it’s presented attractively, should be impressive enough to greatly assist in closing any deal.

This same principle applies to nonprofit organizations. The concern that a surly donor may quip, “if you can afford such a fancy brochure, why do you need my donation?” can be easily answered.  Without getting into the specifics, in most cases, the one that answers with that quip, is just validating his or her conscience not to contribute to your cause. (You can verify that by checking that ‘prospective donor’s’ past giving habits). Secondly, even if they add that off-the-cuff remark, after they go through your brochure, they definitely know more about your cause than they did before you handed them the brochure! Nonprofits must, and do spend on publicity and marketing. The American Institute of Philanthropy’s Charity Rating Guide gives satisfactory grades to organizations that allocate as much as 40% of their budgets to fundraising and administration and it rates as “highly efficient” those who spend up to 25% for such costs. The AIP warns donors about organizations who advertise their costs of fundraising are zero.

Serious donors are usually successful businesspeople who know that you must invest before you begin to earn. They expect something in writing. They want to “kick the tires” and see the specs of your organization, which in the case of a nonprofit, includes your mission statement, your significant accomplishments to date, your goals (…and don’t forget, lots of photos!)

Having established the need for written materials, the challenge turns to focusing your message. Nonprofits generally require brochures for recruitment, fundraising, or raising awareness. Sometimes they need one of each because it is critical not to send out mixed signals. If your goal is to persuade parents to enroll their sons in your yeshiva, don’t ask for a donation at the same time. (The tuition is tough enough to come up with!) If the goal is to raise money for a building campaign, your message must be aimed squarely at enthusing donors. You need to show them the end result of their donation – for you and for them.     

There is one common denominator, however, no matter what the brochure type. You must show the reader what you do, rather than what you are. In sales, we describe this approach in terms of features and benefits. The fact that the newest Maytag refrigerator has a 25-cubic foot capacity is a feature. The idea that it has enough shelf space inside so that you can actually see and easily find everything you stuffed inside (and still have additional room left over to store those midnight snacks) is the benefit.

L’havdil, everyone knows that yeshivas teach Torah and there is no greater value than that. Your challenge, in a recruitment brochure for example, is to demonstrate to parents how your methods of chinuch and facilities will be conducive to growth in Torah and development of good middos. In our recent brochure for Mercaz HaTorah of Belle Harbor, we formulated the tagline “developing bochurim into true bnei Torah” and page headers “preparing for the future” and a “home away from home.” The latter opened the door to describe the yeshiva’s extensive dormitory modernization to assure parents that their children would be safe and comfortable.

We now understand why we need brochures and a few guidelines on how to craft them. Last but not least is the timing. We’ll talk more about timing in an upcoming column, but in the outstanding 2004 book Strategic Planning for Public Relations, now in its third edition, author Ronald D. Smith says it takes an average of 41 days from initial planning until you actually get your brochures to the post office (not to mention how long it may take for the post office to deliver them).  

Time flies. It’s almost Purim and Pesach and before you know it, the busy dinner season will be upon us. Yesterday would have been the best time to start brainstorming on how to make an effective brochure, but today is not too late!

This Week’s Bottom Line Action Step: Don’t wait for the last minute. Get the word out about your next major event, fundraising or recruitment drive for the world’s most important organization – your own.

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