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69: How to Write Anti-Oppressive Marketing and Copy that Converts with Natalia Sanyal

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“It’s very common to be taught to manipulate through words, using psychology and emotion. Copywriters are masters of psychology and that’s a lot of power … We’re able to get people to do things like press the ‘buy’ button.”

– Natalia Sanyal
Episode #69

Overview

In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

We’re constantly scrambling to come up with fresh, compelling stories to illustrate our nonprofit missions, but are we being mindful? On this episode of What the Fundraising we’re pausing to take a hard look at content – and the harms our words can inadvertently cause. My guest Natalia Sanyal is applying a humanity-centered, anti-oppressive lens to the art and craft of copywriting. Having seen first-hand in her commercial career how even the most mindful of us can perpetuate hurtful language, she’s bringing tools to help raise our consciousness. 

When she performs her copy audits on the average business, she uncovers terms that are exclusive, demeaning, or that undermine the organization’s core values. In this episode, we are untangling all of this, without judgment or shame.  Natalia believes we’re all figuring it out together and the first step is just to get honest. Among the topics we discuss:

  • Manipulative writing tactics that don’t yield the results nonprofits desire.
  • Positive ways to use psychological insight to secure donor participation and retention.
  • How to avoid words and stories that can trigger negative responses.
  • Why informed decision-making (or conscious choice) is important.
  • What it means to build long-term trust with donors through honesty (not scare tactics). 
  • Steps you can take to generate copy without generating harm.
  • What it means to be an ethical, trauma-informed storyteller. 

You’ll come away from this episode with thoughts and ideas to ensure your messaging is really capturing – rather than undermining – your organization’s ethos and achievements. “It’s all about not being fake and being transparent,” says Natalia, and it starts with intentional conversations like this one!

Check out my Power Partners Formula and register for a masterclass here. You might also be interested in taking my Fundraising Superpower Quiz.

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RELATED CONTENT

A blog post that explains The Indigenous Seventh Generation Principle.

A panel discussion about trauma-informed story-telling can be found here.

Mallory Erickson’s blog about Powerful and Ethical Nonprofit Storytelling.

Support for this show is brought to you by Bloomerang. Our friends at Bloomerang really understand fundraisers, which is how they make donor management software that nonprofits like to use. To learn more about them, head on over to bloomerang.com/mallory.

Get to know Natalia:

Natalia has spent the last decade mastering strategic, data-driven copywriting—working on campaigns for billion-dollar corporations, award-winning marketing agencies, and New York Times bestselling authors like Deepak Chopra, Glennon Doyle, Gabby Bernstein, and Layla F. Saad.

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I teach nonprofit fundraisers to bring in more gifts from the RIGHT donors… so they can stop hounding people for money. Fundraising doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.

MALLORY ERICKSON

episode transcript

Mallory Erickson: Welcome everyone. I am so excited to be here today with Natalia Sanyal. Natalia, welcome to What the Fundraising, 

Natalia Sanyal: So happy to be here. Thanks for having me. 

Mallory Erickson: I am really excited for our conversation today and really love the work that you do. Why don’t we start with you introducing yourself and telling everyone what brings you to our conversation today.

Natalia Sanyal: Yeah. So I’m an antidepressive copywriter and brand messaging strategist. And I work with humanity first brands that want to sound human, sell like hell, and do no harm. So that’s my angle in this copywriting world. And there are a lot of us copywriters out there, not too many are taking the angle of reducing harm copy. It’s a fairly new concept, I’m not the only one out there for sure. But that’s what I do. And I’m excited to get into this conversation and see how if there are any takeaways that I can take from the fundraising world and vice versa. 

Mallory Erickson: Can we start by just talking a little bit about what types of harm you’re talking about?

Natalia Sanyal: Yeah. So in copywriting, the whole point of copywriting is to make the sale. Traditionally copywriters are trained to pretty much do whatever it takes. It depends on who your teacher is. But it’s very common to be taught to manipulate through words using psychology and emotion. Copywriters are masters of psychology and really that’s a lot of power. And when you put that into words we’re able to get people to do things like press the buy button. I think it’s gotten a lot worse with online business. And yeah, there’s just a lot of pressure with sales copy, sales pages, email sales sequences. And even like social media where we are really tugging on emotions like guilt, shame, and fear to get people to do things that we want them to do, convert, whether that’s sign up for a newsletter or attend an event or buy things.

There’s a lot of that happening. The tactics and frameworks that are being used are harmful. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but there’s this one where it’s a very simple framework and where it’s basically you state the problem and then you agitate. And then once they’re feeling super down about themselves and their situation, you present the solution because it’s so much easier to sell to someone when they’re feeling desperate. And that’s a very common copywriting framework, the PAS framework. I’m not a fan of that. And you will see trainers, copywriting, trainers, and teachers, they will be really upfront about the fact that we’re supposed to put a knife in and twist it and really make them feel the pain so that we get them to purchase things. And I just yeah, I don’t condone that way of copywriting at all. So that’s another way. 

And then there’s language. And I think a lot of people are becoming aware of the impact of language now. There are a couple of different angles. There’s language that is not inclusive, so it excludes certain groups. And then there are the sayings that are really old. The problem with that is they’re rooted in oppression and they’re very offensive to certain groups. So there’s that. And I have to say that there is typically not one day that goes by where I say something that is not the type of language I wanna be using. And it was really hard for me to just accept that I’m not perfect in this whole thing.

As someone advocating for inclusive language and language that doesn’t harm,  I obviously am trying my best to learn and recondition my brain, but this is the English language and I am turning 39. So it’s 39 years of this and I’m gonna mess up. And even in this conversation, there might be some things that I say, and I’ve just gotten used to calling myself out in the moment and just being like I’m gonna take that back. I didn’t mean to use that word. So just having grace for ourselves in this journey is really important because the judgment is not gonna help. I think that’s really important to say because I think a lot of people are scared to have these types of conversations because they don’t wanna say the wrong thing. But we’re all in the same boat. We’ve all been conditioned the same way. So yeah, there’s that inclusive language. 

And then there’s also use of slang as cultural appropriation. And this is kinda a newer idea that people are wrapping their heads around, but when a dominant culture borrows slang that originated in a marginalized culture to sell or in their marketing, that’s not something that those cultures are going to appreciate, for a good reason. So there’s that with language and then there’s the jargon that we use. This is another one that I’m constantly trying to train myself to use plain language. And often when we’re speaking to each other we don’t use fancy words, but when we’re writing, it comes out differently.

And I think that honestly, it goes back to school because in school it is not appreciated when you write like you talk, you don’t do well in English if you’re not using fancy grammar, fancy sentence structures, and vocabulary. So we often are business writing, whether we’re writing an email to a colleague or writing copy, we tend to become robot-y and using fancy language. That’s not accessible to everybody. And I come from the agency side of marketing where everybody speaks like that to each other because we all know that language. When we’re talking about marketing, 3rd marketing is filled with jargon, and now that I’ve transitioned out of agency and I’m working with entrepreneurs, not everyone understands this language and it’s great because it gets me to practice using plain language in business.

So yeah, those are some of them, I could go on. 

Mallory Erickson: There are some really big nuggets in there. And I just wanna say I really appreciate the piece you said around perfectionism and making mistakes because I think a lot of nonprofits, sales copy is fundraising copy in certain ways. And I think one of the fears, sometimes that nonprofits have first related to the piece you said around over manipulation of someone’s decision making. And then I think when they fear saying the wrong thing, they either write something super bland and not really moving because they’re so afraid to enter into a more vulnerable language where they might get something wrong. And so I think that piece is just so important for nonprofits to hear. 

Natalia Sanyal: Yeah. And I think the best way to approach that, it really helps to have a diverse network. If it’s just you working it’s okay. If you don’t have a team, that’s fine. If you have a team then hire a team of diverse perspectives and cultures and lived experiences. But if it’s just you, have a network of diverse perspectives and cultures, that really helps just being around that. And then also allowing yourself to own it so when you do mess up to just be public about it and own it, it just gives other people permission to just be learning. Like we’re all learning on this journey and it just helps when people acknowledge it publicly. Obviously, like if it’s safe for you to do so everyone’s circumstances are different, but I think it’s okay to face that fear and you’ll find that people are very forgiving. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. So I’m curious when you’re helping someone write with anti-oppressive copy, what does it look like then? Because we talk a lot about psychology on this podcast in positive ways, too, that understanding what humans desire or want or how they form their identity can be a really positive way to engage them in your work and in your mission. But then there’s this piece around understanding how humans tick and using it in an oppressive way.

And so I’m curious, I can imagine you’re still conscientious and designing around how humans think, but in a way that isn’t manipulating them through I loved what you said, like fear, guilt, shame, like bringing them into that place. So can you tell us a little bit about what that looks and sounds like.

Natalia Sanyal:  If we were to not manipulate and not cause harm on a sales page? I think what the important thing is we can still use psychology. Psychology is a very handy tool when it comes to understanding your customers, right? Like when we reframe that as ooh, get into their minds so that we can get them to do things, versus really put yourselves in their shoes. So you understand their pains, you understand like their fantasies, their dreams, and then speak to that and it’s okay to acknowledge the pain. Like they need to know that you get them. So acknowledging the pain, there’s nothing wrong with that. You need to communicate that you understand what they’re going through and why it really helps showing them that you understand, versus just saying that you get it. So whether that’s sharing a similar experience that you had, like maybe it’s in your home journey that you’ve overcome something that they can relate to. Or your client’s stories, so using testimonials and in an effective way. 

There’s a way to do it where it can be misleading. Testimonials are often misleading because they don’t give the context. So you can, for example, say you launch a new offer and it’s brand new and it has nothing to do with what you have done previously. And in the past, you have worked with a really big name, brand, or celebrity who has a lot of credibility. If you use their testimonial on that sales page, without the context and letting them know that this was not the same offer. I didn’t work with them on this project, it’s misleading. But if it is a similar situation or they’ve experienced the offer and they wanna talk about it, that’s great because then that is proof. You’re showing them that you understand where they’re at now and this is where you can be. 

So that’s one really handy tool talking about the vision that they have. So focusing on like where they can go. Transformation is very powerful in copywriting in sales. And just converting people in general, showing them that there is hope so you get where they are now, and this is where you can be if you work with them and really paint that picture. So I like to replace the A in the PAS framework where A stands for agitation. So it was problem, agitation, solution, so instead of agitation, it’s empathy.

So PES, we state the problem, and then we show them the empathy. I understand this is hard. You’re probably not sleeping at night, blah, blah, blah. And then what if you could have a different reality solution? And then some of the tools, like the tools are neutral, the tools many of them are not inherently bad, like countdown timers, for example. Some people find them very helpful because it gives them a deadline. I am that way. Like if I don’t have deadlines, nothing gets done. So if there’s a sale going on and for whatever reason, I’m not able to purchase right now, it’s helpful to know that I have two days and two hours to do it.

Where it becomes a problem is when the countdown timers are fake. And that sounds ridiculous, but it is so common and it’s like really obvious too. Because if it says 30 seconds left and this deal’s gonna go away and you refresh the page and it’s 30 seconds left, so we know it’s not real. And people are catching onto this now, like in the beginning this was a new idea and nobody had any idea about what was going on. Now people are like, wait a minute. That’s not cool. That’s like a straight-up lie. So it depends on how you use it. 

Mallory Erickson: So fundraising copy has a lot of the same language around the problem. But the problem is not necessarily your problem, right? It’s a problem in the community. However, I argue that it is also the potential donor’s problem because they are kept up at night about it or they’re worried about it. So they still have a problem related to the organization’s work, even if it’s not the direct problem that the organization is solving.

And that empathy piece, I think can also be helpful with donors, not in a way that centers them in the organization’s work, but meets them where they’re at. We can imagine that someone like you is struggling every day to see blank and blank happening in your community around you. And so they’re doing some of that same empathy and then showing how the organization solves that problem. Does that sound aligned with you in terms of that process? 

Natalia Sanyal: Yeah, definitely. And I can see how there’s that challenge there. Psychologically, I’m thinking about when you’re fundraising, you’re speaking to this big idea of, which is beyond individuals or about communities and making a difference in the world, which everybody wants to do. People wanna know that they’re a good person because of the impacts that they have, but it’s just hard to prioritize that because as humans we need to know that like us as individuals, we’re safe, our family, and people close to us taken care of. And then it goes out from there. It’s the immediate needs first. So I can imagine for someone who’s fundraising for a cause that might be a challenge to get people to act now because it doesn’t feel like it really touches them. 

So I’m curious about how people get over that hurdle. And I wonder if it would be helpful to position the message as the responsibility and impact on future generations. That is something that a lot of people are talking about in business now which is great, just thinking beyond the now and our responsibility, the responsibility we have to our future generations. I don’t know too much about this, but I know that it’s an indigenous framework and I believe it’s called seven generations. And it’s thinking and applying in your operations so that what you do now is positively impacting seven generations to follow. Don’t quote me on that. I just know that’s the general idea is getting individuals to think further than just themselves and the present.

Mallory Erickson: We’ll link that in the show notes in additional resources for folks to look into. Yeah. And I think what you’re saying, I think what you’re saying is really important. And I think part of what you’re acknowledging, which is very true, is that crisis fundraising is a thing, right? Like when there does feel like there’s more of an immediate need, or our immediate safety might be impacted by it, people are inspired to give more in that moment. So that is true. And I think there is a growing awareness around the fact that what we do now affects what happens in future generations, but also in six months, and a year from now.

I think there have been a number of issue areas recently between reproductive rights, gun control, and climate change, that people are really starting to see how short the loop is between their involvement and an issue, and the impact it has on their lived experience. But I do think what you said before about making sure that you’re not using fake urgency is really important, that these things are urgent. And I think there’s an urgent case to be made for all of them without saying like you have 24 hours to give this amount of money or else blank. What we see a lot in political fundraising in the US, is that type of urgency where we all, I got an email last week where it told me I had 15 minutes and or else blank. And so how am I gonna believe that right now I have another 15-minute situation? 

So I think it is about nonprofits being honest and transparent. They create match campaigns, there’s true urgency there. A donor says we will match funds up to midnight on Giving Tuesday. That’s real. And so I think finding for nonprofits too, a time box moment that’s meaningful, getting your major donors engaged to create some of that urgency, not in a fear-based way but in an exciting urgency way. And then you don’t have to use all these fake tricks.

Natalia Sanyal: Yeah, exactly. That’s when it gets to be manipulation, right? When the urgency is fake or fabricated, then that sucks. But when it’s real, then people would like to know, they would appreciate that even if there’s a negative thing that you’re trying to avoid. If that’s okay, they would appreciate knowing that they’re avoiding a situation if they act now. So I think yeah it’s all about not being fake and being transparent. I’m curious about how informed purchase decisions will play into fundraising copy and marketing because making an informed purchase decision is important to all consumers. Like all consumers wanna know that they know what getting into. Especially with higher price points, which is all subjective as well, it depends on your income level. 

So I try to remind people that if they’re selling something that’s $50, it doesn’t necessarily give you license to not give them as much information because it’s only $50. It’s only $50 to you, maybe not to somebody. And I say this because I’ve been in that position in the past in my life where $50 was a lot and I didn’t have it. So it didn’t make me feel great when I see people selling things online saying that it’s only $50, that’s another one. There are a lot of those words where we throw them around without realizing the impact it has, only is a big one.

But going back to the informed purchase decision, companies tend to avoid spilling all the details. And I just wrote a post about this on LinkedIn the other day, like fine print, that’s where all the information is hiding that they need to know about to be able to make an informed purchase decision. All the terms that they’re signing up for are all in this tiny little print that nobody reads. They know that. The fine print is one of those things that I do not suggest to any of my clients, if there’s anything that needs to be said in fine print, you need to say it in the regular size font and put it in your FAQ or wherever is appropriate.

And even in my sales process. So when someone comes to me asking me to do copywriting, say an audit of their sales page. My first question will be, what is the marketing plan you have for that sales page? Because I can make the sales page shine and it can do what it’s meant to do. But if you have no traffic coming there, then does it really make sense for you to tweak this right now? Like you need a plan and plenty of people have been like, oh shoot. I didn’t think about that. And yeah, maybe I’ll come back to you another time. And I’m okay with that. People will appreciate that and in the long run, it’s gonna work out better for you anyway. And I wonder how this translates into the fundraising world, like an informed decision. What I think of straight off the bat is I know that people are hesitant to give money when they don’t know how it’s being used. And there are reports that are made public, not everybody wants to go through those reports. So I’m just curious about how that’s handled as far as informed, donating decision. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. You’re bringing up a real sticky issue and I’m excited that we’re gonna talk about it. So I would say from the informed decision, making the words I use when it comes to fundraising are conscious choice, that we want donors to feel like they’re making a conscious choice. I’ve never delineated it down to the fear, shame, guilt piece. But I do talk a lot about how we don’t want a guilt gift. We don’t want a favor gift. That’s gonna be a one-time thing. You’re not gonna see retention on that donor. That’s not the right donor. That’s not how to find the right donor. And it’s a look you can fundraise successfully with guilt, totally. You can fundraise successfully with shame, totally. We see it happen all the time. What we don’t see with that? What we see is success around that campaign, around that moment when people are manipulated essentially into making a donation, and we don’t see them come back and give another donation. And then we see nonprofits have a 20% retention rate from first-time donors to second gifts. So that tells us a lot about the stewardship we’re doing, I think of those donors. 

But I also really believe it tells us a lot about how we’re getting them to donate in the first place a lot of the time. And so I think what you teach and what you’re talking about, and what I deeply believe is that the more conscious people are donating in the first place, the more that they’re gonna be those longer-term sustainable donors for your organization. And granted, you’re always gonna do grassroots fundraising with big networks, and you’re going to be encouraging people to give for the first time. 

And there’s an identity piece to this that I wanna talk about in a minute. But I really agree that, and I think it’s really interesting what you said about the dollar amount and how informed we feel, like we need to let people be. With nonprofits, this is a little bit complicated because there is this overarching narrative that’s imposed on the nonprofit sector around how are you spending every dollar we give you. And there’s a little bit of this patronizing relationship between donors and nonprofits. There’s this really uncomfortable power dynamic. And some of what happens I think in the, how are you spending every dollar I’m giving, is a little bit of that. It’s this micromanaging of the organization in a way that actually really restricts the organization’s ability to be flexible, respond deeply to their community, and reallocate funds as needed. 

And so it’s this dance between, a lot of what I recommend is creating buckets. Like big enough buckets that give the organization flexibility around what they’re trying to do, inspiring donors around the vision and impact, being transparent about what they know and don’t know, and not making promises around something they can’t deliver on. But then there is a certain amount of leeway that needs to be given by donors around, $25 is not just to buy this notebook or buy this backpack because ultimately from a giving impact perspective, that type of restricted fundraising is super hard on the nonprofit. So it’s complicated.

Natalia Sanyal: That’s interesting. And I never thought of it that way, but that makes sense. I feel if nonprofits were just transparent about that it would increase, basically people who are hesitating to give just wanna know that they’re not being taken advantage of. It’s I don’t wanna give my money to you if you’re gonna go throw a party somewhere. Like, how do I know? How do I know you’re gonna be actually doing the thing? And they are probably extra defensive about it because it’s framed as there’s probably some guilt in them, maybe it’s not even in marketing but in them. So they wanna know that that guilt is actually being resolved. So I feel like if the nonprofit, and this would probably be really refreshing because yeah I know that there is that tension. And if a nonprofit was just straight up hey, we can’t promise you that this dollar is gonna go in this bucket, but this is what we can promise. 

Just in general, that approach to business even is so refreshing, with service providers in particular like myself, overpromising is a big one that comes up a lot. And you set the bar for expectation and then you don’t deliver that and people don’t appreciate that. And obviously, it is manipulative. So just being straight up honest about how this is gonna go down. And even if it feels counterintuitive because it doesn’t sound like you’re making yourself, you’re putting yourself in a position increasing the chances that they’re actually gonna convert. I think it does the opposite, I think because you’re transparent and admitting that this is not exactly what you wanna hear, but I just wanna tell you the truth. This is what might happen, just so you’re prepared. I think that would probably work in their favor.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. Okay. I have a kind of complicated question that maybe has a sales parallel, we’ll see. But I’m curious, like one of the things that I think is complicated about fundraising is that the fundraising is happening in this urgent campaign perhaps, like a Giving Tuesday campaign. So they’ve created this time box moment. There is this amount of urgency, maybe they have a matching gift that they’re trying to get by a certain timeline. The impact that their promising or alluding to, or saying they’re gonna do is a long game. Changing these issues is not quick. And so it doesn’t mean they didn’t do it, but it’s like they didn’t do it in what people expect as like a turnaround timeframe or something.

I’m curious if there’s a parallel situation in sales like I think about even products I’ve bought. Or I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about this before but skincare. They can make all these promises, but it’s not like the first time you use them you’re gonna see the results. And it’s you also have to be really committed to the thing and you also have to use it according to the directions and all these things, and they maybe in a year. 

Natalia Sanyal: Yeah, yeah, totally! 

Mallory Erickson: So how do you recommend folks reconcile with that like time box moment to make the sale with the long-term results or impact piece?

Natalia Sanyal: What’s coming to mind is actually myself as a consumer. So I have had a lifetime of challenges with eczema. And the quick fix is there are plenty on the market and I have tried them all. And now I realize that those do not work, those quick fixes actually end up causing more issues.

So when I finally came across someone on the internet who was saying that, hey, it’s an eight-week program. You pay for the program and then you’re gonna have to spend a lot of money so you need to budget this much for that and then you can’t expect change until probably like the six-month mark and maybe full healing by the first year.

And she basically said I don’t guarantee it because everyone’s case is different and it really depends on 20 different factors. She said all of that, and all of that you think would work against her. But that’s what made me sign up like right away. I’m like, okay, thank you! Someone who’s just being honest about what this actually takes. And it’s okay if it takes a year, I’ve dealt with it for much longer than that. 

So I’m thinking for a situation like that just spelling it out and being super upfront about yeah, this is not a quick fix. It’s gonna take a year until you see results. But the quick fixes don’t work, and here’s so I’m okay with telling you that because I know that this is actually way more effective than that is. And you’ve experienced it, maybe you’ve already spent that much money thinking you’re having an overnight fix to a situation. And I think we all know that doesn’t work, I’m trying to relate it to fundraising and how what kind of parallel that would be. I’m never going to suggest that somebody calls another company or anything like that. It’s more calling out and making the villain the concept, or the conditioning that we’ve had, or the systems. We’ve been conditioned to sell quick fixes, that’s just what has happened due to many reasons. So we don’t need to call out the companies, but we can call out the system and explain that that hasn’t worked out for anybody. So I’m just gonna let you know, it’s gonna take a year. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. I love that. And I think there’s a total parallel to nonprofit here, which is just the recognition that if these problems were quick to solve, we wouldn’t still be dealing with them. Then they’re obviously not quick to solve. They’re gonna require a ton of grappling and trying and failing. So I think what you said is so important. So much of what you are recommending folks do like you said, is bring this level of humanness to the way that they communicate through their copy and having transparency, and building trust from a very real place. How does an organization, a brand, how do they ensure that same tone and not just the guidelines around we don’t use these words here anymore, but also the level of transparency, maybe the level of vulnerability and communications? How do you help teams and brands adopt that same writing style?

Natalia Sanyal: Yeah, it’s hard because there are so many little things that we need to think about and it’s very overwhelming, right? I don’t know how many of you talked about here, probably like maybe close to 10. There are so many others and it feels almost like that is a hurdle in itself for people to actually want to change because I’ve heard that in conversations where people are like, okay, what am I supposed to be doing here? Because everything I know is what I’m not supposed to be doing. So I don’t even know where to start. 

Here’s a really simple way of thinking about it. When I write a sales page, because I have been conditioned for so long, the harm reduction piece is the last thing I do. So I will write, however it comes out obviously being conscious of what I’m saying, but I need to go back at the end and filter for harm reduction, specifically where I’m not thinking of conversion anymore. I’m thinking who is this excluding, do I want that? Do I wanna exclude them on purpose? And why and what is the impact of that? Obviously going through the language and the frameworks and making sure do they have all the information they need to make an informed purchase decision. So that really helps. Don’t try and write your copy while you’re trying to do harm reduction at the same time. It’s just too much for your brain to handle, write all the copy, and don’t even think about it. And then at the end go through it. 

Here’s another one that really helps at the end once I’ve gone through everything. I asked myself if I was trying to convince my daughter to buy this thing, would I use these techniques on her? Because obviously, she’s the person I care about the most in this world. Would I? And if there’s anything that is manipulative, then that’s a no, right? If there’s anything, any language that would cause harm, that’s a no. So that would be a very relatable way for anyone to think about this. If I was fundraising, is this how I would wanna get money from like my dad, would I use these tactics on him? And like I said a lot of the tactics are mutual, so it’s just in many ways the way we frame it. And thinking of it that way imagining the person that you love the most and having this conversation with them, would you be comfortable having that convo with them, how would you approach this? 

Mallory Erickson: Okay. I think that’s amazing advice. And you can tell me if this next question is outside of what you feel comfortable talking about, but I know that one of the things that come up for nonprofits a lot is ethical storytelling. A lot of times what they’re having to do in their copy is tell a story about a beneficiary of the program or a community member. And sometimes the topic or the areas that the nonprofits work in are really triggering topics, between trauma, sexual assault, those types of things.

And so something that a lot of folks have been asking me about recently is, how do you write compelling copy for a donor that is both respectful of the person in the story, an ethical representation for them, and not triggering or harmful to the reader of the story as well, especially when it’s around an urgent need related to a topic that might be triggering. And I’m just curious how you would answer something like that.

Natalia Sanyal: That’s such a good question because I have thought about it from the donor’s perspective, how we would treat them in this case. And I haven’t thought about it from the person in the story. And I feel like that one, we have to be even more careful because they’re the vulnerable ones. So the donor, I think that just giving them the heads up before they consume the content so that they know what they’re getting into. 

That sounds like a very simple solution but I know that I would appreciate that, when it comes to scrolling on Instagram or anywhere on the internet, I’m very sensitive to many topics. So in general, I don’t watch movies and I don’t watch TV. And if I’m scrolling on Instagram and something comes up and there is no warning, it’s not great. When there is a warning I’ll just scroll past it or if there’s a description of what it is. And I know that it is a topic that I want to learn about, I’m just not in the mind space right now. So just giving them a heads up before you present the content, I think would do the trick for the donors. 

What about the people in the story? This is a hard one because I think when it comes to overcoming hardship, maybe this goes without saying, but sharing someone’s story when it is still fresh, when the wound is still fresh, is probably going to harm them. And they might not even know it. You might get their consent and they think it’s okay, but they don’t realize the impact it’s gonna have on them. And that’s a very common thing is people who have gone through sexual assault, for example, you will see a lot of sexual assault survivors talking very openly about what’s happened to them. Without any filter of who their audience is. Can you trust them with this information? And how vulnerable are you with them that maybe this is not such a good idea? You need to be a bit more discerning on who and where you share these stories. So I wonder what would be the solution for that? Because you can get their consent and it would not be enough to harm. I’m not sure what the answer is in that case. I feel like this is a question for a fully licensed psychologist who understands how long it takes to talk about your trauma. And what are the conditions that need to be in place for them to feel safe, not only in that moment but really understand what they’re getting into? And maybe there’s, I’m sure a psychologist would know okay, these are the signs once you have achieved these milestones in your everyday life, you can feel free to talk about it. Maybe not, if you haven’t.

Mallory Erickson: I think that’s a really good thing. And I’ll do some research around that. And maybe that’s another thing I’ll link in the show notes as well as some information about that. I think even just the waiting period idea of making that the testimonials that you’re getting are with folks who completed the program a certain amount of time ago, perhaps, or things like that might be something to think about, but yeah it’s complicated.

Natalia Sanyal: Yeah. I love that question. I definitely have never thought about it from that angle, but like thinking about the kinds of people that we’re helping. It’s amazing that people are able to help them out, but they are not indebted to them in this way where they now have to share their story for marketing purposes, you know what I mean? And I think if donors knew that, there would be so much more respect for the nonprofit because we know that they actually genuinely care about the people that they’re helping from every angle. And if it doesn’t benefit them to not include their story, then they’re okay with that. They’ll figure out another way. And the nonprofit should be able to let people know that we work with this psychologist to make sure that our survivors are not harmed in this process of sharing their story. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. I love that. I really love that idea. And I do have other clients who work with young people who do trauma work, for example, and they don’t share their stories. But that was a shift really in the last 10 years. And they don’t do tours anymore of their programs, all these things they used to do that they realized in the last 10 years were really harmful. And they’ve changed a lot of their practices and it certainly has been a challenge in fundraising for them to reset expectations with their donors about how they’re communicating out impact. And so it’s totally possible. It’s not always super easy, especially if you’re changing how you did it, but it’s totally possible.

And I think really important. And like you said just being really transparent about why it’s happening. And that it’s aligned with the work, the real work they’re investing in is aligned with this decision around how stories are told is really important. 

Natalia Sanyal: I love that. It’s such a good question.

Mallory Erickson: We could talk forever but I know we have a lot of folks listening to this too. We have nonprofits, but we have a lot of nonprofit consultants too, who I think could be really interested in working with you. Because I think when I first started following you, it was in my own process and you’ve even taught me some things on this. I’m like, I use the word only. I gotta get that out of there. There are a lot of things you said where I’m like, ooh, I didn’t realize that was oppressive, or oh, I didn’t realize that was oppressive. But it has been in my own process of saying, okay, I don’t ever want a nonprofit, number one, to not make a conscious choice around whether or not they work with me. But also I don’t wanna harm the sector in my marketing for my work. And so trying to find this balance. So tell folks where they can find you, how they can work with you, and your favorite way to connect with folks.

Natalia Sanyal: Oh, sure. My favorite way to connect is on LinkedIn. So I guess if you just search my name, I’m the only Natalia Sanyal on LinkedIn, as far as I know. And then my website is Nataliasanyal.com. And the way that I’m working with folks right now, basically two ways. I could either do a copy audit of your sales copy, where I go through and optimize for conversions and harm reduction. And then the other way, and I don’t know if that’s relevant for your audience, but the other way that I help is brand messaging. 

So yeah, just making sure that your brand messaging is on point, which is actually what is required before you write the copy. I often work with thought leaders or people who want to be thought leaders, who want to start a movement that might be helpful for your audience. Yeah, I’ve got those on the go. I am not actively selling them but I will soon. So I think the best way to connect with me is on LinkedIn. And then come say hi in my DMS and have a conversation. 

Mallory Erickson: Amazing. Thank you so much for joining me for this conversation today.

Natalia Sanyal: It was so great. Thank you so much for having me. These conversations are not easy, even for me, and I felt super comfortable so I really appreciate that.

Mallory Erickson: Oh, I’m glad to hear that. Thank you.

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