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Monday, 14 February 2011

Oldies but goodies

By Christiana Stergiou

Most of us spend a lot of time focusing on what’s new and on chasing the latest trends. We fail to see that some of the best fundraising methods out there aren’t new, they are traditional and old – but they are executed to perfection. With that in mind, I am going to recommend three ‘old’ fundraising books.

The oldest book on my fundraising bookshelf is Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples. It was first published in 1932 and since then has been reprinted numerous times. Caples himself revised it four times and the last edition, which alone has been reprinted 14 times, is still available in paperback.

Caples wrote thousands of direct mail pieces over many years and collected thorough results from each campaign. Advertising genius David Ogilvy said Caples ‘has no theories only facts’ and he shares hundreds of them in this book. Not only will Caples teach you how to test, he will teach you everything he learnt as a result of his body of work and research, including his mistakes. He also provides excellent guides for all aspects of direct marketing – from writing headlines, the first paragraph of an advert or letter, through to hundreds of ways to improve your overall copy to increase response.

I often hear fundraisers say ‘we tested that’, but in reality they didn’t. They just gave something a go to see if it would work. That’s just trying, not testing. Testing involves comparing, learning and continually improving what you do and how you do it. This book will teach you the genuine ins and outs of testing. I’m confident it will improve many fundraising campaigns.

David Ogilvy said he learned all he knew about copywriting from John Caples. In 1983 Ogilvy’s own book Ogilvy on Advertising was published and it too has been revised and reprinted many times. Whether it’s advertising, direct mail copy or advice on how to work with an agency, Ogilvy on Advertising is a must read for the savvy fundraiser. You can read a more detailed review of it on SOFII here.

Published in 2000, Mal Warwick’s Five Strategies for Fundraising Success: A Mission-Based Guide to Achieving Your Goals is a book I often refer to when putting together a fundraising strategy for a charity. Mal identifies the five main strategies as growth, involvement, visibility, efficiency and stability (GIVES). So often boards and management want all those things at once. Oh, to live in that perfect world.

Thankfully, Mal methodically explains the best strategy for any organisation’s current situation and future needs. He also assists in answering some of the frequent questions about developing a fundraising strategy. These include: should we run special events? Are we ready for a capital campaign? And should we launch a direct mail campaign? He also outlines ten key benchmarks that will assist in evaluating your success.

You can find out more about the latest fundraising book news and reviews at You can also contact Christiana at


  1. Totally agree, Christiana. If you don't read your Caples, you really can't call yourself fully baked as a copywriter. The lesson of his I recall every day is how every time he made the ad copy tighter, he made more money. The modern equivalent of John Caples is the Wizard of Ads, Roy H. Williams.