The International Fundraising Congress (IFC) is in a financial pinch or worse.  It’s main economic engine, a well regarded, in-person conference has been shelved for two years running and times are tough.

They’re doing what all fundraisers do, fundraise.  The seeming irony is the appeal seems awfully organization centric, not particularly personal and missing a story.  The IFC says it’s the home of global fundraising so I had to wonder, am I right and are the cobbler’s kids shoeless?

But my opinion is just that so I decided to get an objective read.


A new tool, the Copy Optimizer, scientifically scores copy to predict engagement and response rate.  As you can see, out of a possible ‘Overall engagement score’ of 100, IFC are scoring 43 and getting just 2 out of a possible 5 stars.   Mostly shoeless it would seem but fortunately, this is fixable with the right guidance, which the tool also provides.

(Reader Note:  There is a full video appeal and we transcribed and scored it as well.  Scores were slightly worse than the lead-in text shown so we decided to illustrate with the shorter version for simplicity).


Engagement shouldn’t be a fluffy term. There’s a science to it. Your engagement score is broken down in two ways, the first being Readability.

Readability means if it’s hard to read it won’t be read.  The aim is copy that feels like a personal letter or conversation.  It doesn’t matter how complex our subject matter or how sophisticated our audience, if our copy doesn’t read like natural speech, it’s not going to do well. How’s this copy doing? Out of a possible 100 it scores 62.  Clearly there’s room for improvement, but how?

Well, in the image above, in the bottom right corner, there’s an orange box. This is the first of two Readability instructions, in this case telling me words I can remove. The Copy Optimizer makes this easy by highlighting words that could and probably should go.

In this case adjectives are highlighted in red. Why adjectives? Too many descriptive words clutter copy, making it harder to process. For illustrative purposes what would happen if we deleted them all?

The score has gone up but not much, from a 62 to 69.  We’re going in the right direction, what else can we do?

You see the long list in the middle of the screen in the image above? These are words we can add to improve our copy and response. This list is always specific to your copy. In this case the advice is adding emphatics (e.g., really, strongly, very), conversational words (e.g., well, now, anyway), replacing nouns with “it” and so on.

Let’s see what happens when we play with some of these…

Great, our Readability score is now a perfect 100. Trouble is our story score is still lousy so the Cobbler’s kids have one shoe each.

The good news is you don’t need a PhD in linguistics or the mind of a great novelist to tell your story. The Copy Optimizer gives you clear cut direction. In the image above the orange highlighted box gives instruction on the kinds of words we can add to tell a better story.

First, to make this a story we’ll need to reframe to make this about someone and something. We’ll need a protagonist, a person or group who can show (not tell) our reader a problem they could solve. Second, we’ll need to make more of the past tense, the place where stories happen. And third we’ll need to move our protagonist from a place of despair to hope, showing our readers how they made this happen. Ok, let’s play with some of these and see what happens to our scores…

Both measures are 100.  And it took just three simple steps.  Of course this story is a bit contrived.  A real story would come from a real attendee talking about some fundraising struggle or need or desire and show how attending cued the magic light bulb or otherwise delivered hope and promise.  That would take all of five minutes to find this person and another 10 to interview them.

This isn’t about IFC though the kids could have nicer shoes…

It’s about the standards we set ourselves and doing better.  The first step is defining “better” and measuring it.  A personal feeling correspondence and story have a well-worn, tell-tale pattern.   The pattern is detectable, which means both are science first, art second.


P.S. The Copy Optimizer is moving out of its beta version soon and will be available for all those cobblers out there.  Stay tuned.