I like to cook with “real” ingredients, don’t you? While I appreciate that some of us react negatively to sugar or wheat or animal fats, there’s nothing like the taste of real sugar, flour and butter.

In the same way, preparing fund raising communications works best when we have real, fresh, and local ingredients to work with.

I’ll explain. Last week I did a presentation (for AFP-NNE and CONFR) on working with creative people.  While I have more than two decades of experience working with other writers, graphic designers, web folk, and the like, I wanted to share what I’d learned with fund raising professionals who might not have had that type of experience. I also solicited advice from creative colleagues, and one writer’s answer reminded me of one of the chief difficulties of our work.

She spoke of the challenge – in a solicitation piece – of making the need concrete. I couldn’t agree more.

So much of the time, those of us in development are tasked with raising money for basic operations. These are worthy, indeed, but don’t tend to make compelling copy. Donors want to make a difference, and they want to make a specific difference unique to your mission.

Donors don’t often get excited about keeping the lights on, or the parking lots clear of snow, so we end up with language that dances around that. We ask for dollars “where they’re needed most.” It’s an unsatisfactory substitute, and it can leave an unsatisfactory taste in the mouth.

I’ve attended fund raising workshops in which were advised to find out exactly what charitable gifts were spent on, and to report that back to the donors when thanking them, and when asking for new gifts. If you follow such fund raising gurus as Penelope Burke and Bob Burdenski, you’ll see it’s a key foundation of good development practice.

Why, then, do so few of us practice it? Why do so many of us continue to settle for saccharine substitutes?