All the great fundraising copywriters agree on one key piece of advice … construct a very clear archetypal image (demographically, psychographically, culturally) of the individual you are writing to, and then write as though you were speaking to that person face-to-face.

Most fundraising copywriters these days probably have in their mind’s eye some version of a Baby Boomer (or older) as they contemplate their audience. That’s not a bad image, given what we know about life stage giving (and who has money to give). Think a moment about what their formative experiences might have been … coming of age in the ’60s, etc.

But just to show you how disturbingly different the ‘gestalt’ of your donor might be in years to come, try getting your head around this profile of the incoming class at Beloit College. Apparently Beloit prepares this tongue-in-cheek profile each year for its in-coming class. Most of this year’s class would have been born in 1994 … and so the following will give you a sense of the mindset they inhabit …

  1. For these students, Kurt Cobain, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Nixon and John Wayne Gacy have always been dead.
  2. The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them.
  3. If they miss The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube.
  4. Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker’s long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.
  5. Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge.
  6. The paradox “too big to fail” has been for their generation what “we had to destroy the village in order to save it” was for their grandparents.
  7. They can’t picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it.
  8. Their folks have never gazed with pride on a new set of bound encyclopedias on the bookshelf.
  9. Exposed bra straps have always been a fashion statement, not a wardrobe malfunction to be corrected quietly by well-meaning friends.
  10. Star Wars has always been just a film, not a defense strategy.
  11. They have come to political consciousness during a time of increasing doubts about America’s future.
  12.  Gene therapy has always been an available treatment.
  13. Mr. Burns has replaced J.R.Ewing as the most shot-at man on American television.
  14. History has always had its own channel.
  15. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has always been officially recognized with clinical guidelines.
  16. They watch television everywhere but on a television.
  17. Point-and-shoot cameras are soooooo last millennium.

Got that image? Need more help? Check out the full list of 75 descriptors.

Then begin writing!


P.S. Do you have a list of favorite cultural reference points that you fear are becoming extinct? Share them with us.

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