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This new commercial made me cry (and why it matters for your fundraising)

Published 7 months agoΒ β€’Β 5 min read

Some of my favorite things are in the past. You too? Take my hand, let's go! This is the 114th issue of the Fundraising Writing Newsletter. If you find value here, please tell your fundraising friends. (Your fundraising friends can ​subscribe here for free.)​

In this issue:

  • This new commercial made me cry (and why it matters for your fundraising)
  • Creative ways to harness nostalgia in fundraising (with examples)
  • Randomly yours: to inspire and recharge you
  • Win It in a Minute -- Julie asks Tom Ahern: What emotions work best in fundraising?

Wednesday, November 29, 2023


Hi Reader,

Nostalgia β€” tis the season!

This past week, my family and I enjoyed our traditional Thanksgiving meal that included dressing, cranberries, cornbread casserole, and a green bean casserole that's 100% faithful to its original recipe of 40 years ago.

Very nostalgic. It was wonderful.

I think nostalgia can be described as: novelty plus time.

You relive a moment from your past, but it's different this time because you are different this time. It's not just the past. It's the past colored by the present. That change in perspective changes the way you think and feel about the original moment.

Perhaps this is why nostalgia is so powerful.

Which is why I want to share with you about how...

This new commercial made me cry (and why it matters for your fundraising)

Brett texted the commercial to me yesterday morning. He said:

I watched the 5-minute commercial and cried pretty much right away. (Brett says he didn't get misty-eyed until a couple minutes in, with full tears dropping near the ending.)

Please watch the commercial now. (It will do your heart good!)

Then: I have thoughts.

Done already?


Now, here's the rest of my text exchange with Brett. I begin:

Whatever moments from the commercial resonated with you, I'm confident you felt something. Please hold onto that! It's a feeling your donors love to feel. But how can you give them this feeling?

πŸ‘‰Β First, let's break down why the commercial is so moving.

πŸ‘‰ Then, we'll look at a few examples from fundraising.

πŸ‘‰ Finally, I'll leave you with some big-idea takeaways.

What the Chevy commercial teaches us...

Whether it's fully realistic or not, the idea of an elder woman nearing the end of her life while suffering with dementia β€” then coming back to herself and her family after "traveling down memory lane" speaks to all of us.

We can relate because we've all experienced at least some small version of this: you feel not quite yourself, then you feel much better after doing something that reminds you of who you really are.

This is one reason visiting beloved family or a treasured old friend can be so rejuvenating. You swap stories, relive memories, and walk away ready to tackle the challenges before you. They seem smaller now.

The commercial is a brilliant "vehicle" for nostalgia:

  • a grandmother at a holiday family gathering sits alone, silent
  • she seems not to know who or where she is
  • her granddaughter brings her to the garage
  • she uncovers an old Chevy
  • the two go driving
  • gradually, the grandmother recognizes things
  • she begins to speak
  • just a word at first, then a phrase...
  • she and her granddaughter sing along with the radio
  • the twinkle returns to her eyes
  • at home, the family rejoice: grandmother is back!

That's the broad story arc.

But what makes us cry is the contrast between how the grandmother was at the beginning of the commercial and how she is at the end β€” all of it punctuated by relatable nostalgic details.

We are seemingly with her as she tours through her hometown, past the house she grew up in, past the high school she went to.

Then come her memories. The moment she first lays eyes on her future husband as a young man. The moment they first kiss at a drive-in movie theater.

Grandmother remembers this well enough to correct her granddaughter: she was not the kissee β€” she was the kisser!

Fundraising takeaways from this commercial:

πŸ”΄ Try to think of a brilliant vehicle for nostalgia befitting of your fundraising campaign.

πŸ”΅ Make the memories relatable.

🟑 Include emotional moments.

🟣 Help us to see and feel those moments with details.

A few examples from fundraising...

➑️ Watch this 1-minute fundraising video from UNICEF UK that was shared by Ligia Peña at this year's Nonprofit Storytelling Conference. It features nostalgia through the decades to great effect.

video preview​

➑️ Review this fundraising pack created by Agents of Good and featured on SOFII (added by John Lepp just last week!).

This pack highlights nostalgia through a campaign focused on a musical therapy program for seniors:

The appeal letter was sent in a nostalgic outer envelope:

➑️ Take a look at how a memory in a client's appeal letter conjures up warm feelings of nostalgia β€” emphasized here with a typewriter font:

Please note that, for the image above, I specifically chose the original book cover from 1962. Because: nostalgia! :)

And finally, some big-idea takeaways...

  • Historical Photos and Imagery: Incorporate historical photos or imagery that resonate with the time period when your donors were younger. This could include images from past decades that evoke memories of their youth.
  • Themes from Past Decades: Use themes or visual styles from the 1950s, 60s, or 70s in your materials. This can include design elements, colors, and patterns that were popular in these eras.
  • Music and Audio: If using video or audio in your communications, consider incorporating music from the past that might be meaningful to your donors.
  • Anniversaries and Milestones: Celebrate significant milestones or anniversaries of your organization that align with your donors' younger years. This could be through special events, commemorative publications, or campaigns.
  • Memorable Experiences: Create events or experiences reminiscent of the past, such as a themed gala, to physically bring donors back to a different time.

Final thought:
Nostalgia makes for fundraising to remember!

Randomly yours: to inspire and recharge you

For your brain, heart, and funny bone...

  • Fundraisingly Informative β€” 10 reasons donors say NO, and what they mean by Jeff Brooks (a blog post about ten subtly different reasons donors do not respond to your appeals, and how to think about them without shooting yourself in the foot)
  • Painfully Human β€” Parents Are People via This American Life (a 57-minute podcast episode featuring 5 stories of times when children realized that adults are not omniscient or omnipotent but merely flawed)​
  • Analytically Illuminating β€” The dark side of competition in AI by Live Boeree (a 12-minute TED talk from a former pro poker player who explains how game theory can help us understand our precarious modern predicament, both generally and with respect to AI)

Until next time: May you never forget the power of the past, and always be on the lookout for opportunities to help your donors travel down memory lane, where they're happily likely to find themselves again.


PS: Here's the latest in our weekly video series, Win It in a Minute. You can (and maybe want to?) subscribe here.

In the new video, Julie tells Tom, "I'd like to ask you about the emotions we want donors to feel from reading our appeals. Recently, DonorVoice posted that they did 4 head-to-head experiments to see what emotions work best in fundraising. They found that, by far, fostering a sad feeling first followed by a hopeful feeling worked best. What are your thoughts?"

​Watch Tom explain why evoking sadness followed by hope can be the most impactful emotional journey in fundraising appeals.

video preview​


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We're Julie Cooper and Brett Cooper, fundraising copywriters for great causes. Does your fundraising bring in as much money as it could? You can send donor communications that stir hearts to action. We'd love to help. πŸ’› Start by subscribing to our FREE and fun weekly newsletter.

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