Green Eggs and Ham: The Essential Nonprofit Donor Communications Primer

February 17, 2019

Green Eggs and Ham is one of Dr. Seuss’ best-known children’s classics. Released nearly 60 years ago, it manages to capture kids’ attention to this day.

While Dr. Seuss’ tales might seem like basic nursery rhymes, his stories go far beyond their simplicity. In fact, there is actually an interesting backstory, and it all started with a problem. In 1954, the director of the education division of the Houghton Mifflin publishing house learned that illiteracy rates were climbing. Children, he found, were not learning to read because their books were boring.

The director put together a list of 348 words he believed were important for first-grade students to recognize. He then asked Theodore Geisel (AKA Dr. Seuss) to trim the list and write a book using 250 of them.

The resulting book, The Cat in the Hat, went on to become an international best seller and is still beloved today.

Unbeknownst to many, including his adoring fans, Dr. Seuss was a perfectionist to the extreme. His “simple” children’s books sometimes took up to one year to write. It wasn’t uncommon for him to throw out 95% of his material until he settled on a theme for his book.

Dr. Seuss not only worked hard, he worked with intention.

Simplicity requires  paring down and getting back to basics.  There are two important truths within our sector: 1) the more educated the executive director, the more likely they are to struggle with the language of fundraising, and 2) we simply love to overcomplicate everything. Great fundraising communications is never about dumbing it down. It is by working hard, and working with intention, that you’re able to simplify.

As nonprofit professionals, it’s tempting to want to explain how you do what you do, step by painful step to the reader. It might even be tempting to use your jargon in your writing because you think that your readers will “get it.”

Don’t. Your readers aren’t interested in hearing all about your seven different programs. When copywriters talk “long copy,” they’re not talking about tedious details. Your donors want to know the impact of their gift. You need to guide them towards seeing what their donations are accomplishing. Don’t just tell them. Be sure to keep it direct. And above all else…

Keep it simple.


Reprinted from Direct Mail Masterclass | Basics & More. Create your organization’s most successful direct mail appeal ever with this four-week online training. Click here to learn more and enroll.

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