An Open Letter to Wikipedia
Today I visited your site to look up the titles of the books in the Harry Potter series (which I have not yet, to my undying shame, read).
The following message greeted me (dressed in full funereal black):
We’ll get right to it: This week we ask you to help Wikipedia. To protect our independence, we’ll never run ads. We’re sustained by donations averaging about $15. Only a tiny portion of our readers give. Now is the time we ask. If everyone reading this right now gave $3, our fundraiser would be done within an hour. That’s right, the price of a cup of coffee is all we need. If Wikipedia is useful to you, please take one minute to keep it online and growing. We’re a small non-profit with costs of a top site: servers, staff and programs. We serve millions of readers, but run on a fraction of what other top sites spend. We believe knowledge is a foundation. A foundation for human potential, for freedom, for opportunity. We believe everyone should have access to knowledge—for free, without restriction, without limitation. Please help us end the fundraiser and improve Wikipedia. Thank you.
Now don’t get me wrong…
I believe that EVERY human being on the planet should have instant, unfettered access to the wide array of literary criticisms leveled at the Harry Potter series.
But if you’re serious about your commitment to this unalienable human right…
We REALLY need to talk about your ad copy.
See, you’re dealing with the same fundamental challenge that all non-profits and charities have:
How do you convince people to part with their hard-earned money in exchange for… Well, nothing but the warm fuzzies of “being a good citizen.”
The usual appeals to self-interest don’t work here.
Does anyone really believe that if they don’t give their $3 RIGHT NOW, then the server admins in the Wikipedia data centers will shrug and say, “Dang, we tried…” and start ripping out the power cords?
No, I didn’t think so.
Then there’s your self-centered attitude.
I start reading your ad, and all I hear is:
“We we we we we we we we we we…”
How can I put this delicately?
I couldn’t care less about the problems you have running your website.
That’s because I have my OWN bills to pay to keep my business running (and my family eating).
With an ad like this, it’s no wonder that only a tiny fraction of your readers give.
So here’s what I’d recommend…
Tell me a story.
Show me a person who’s life was changed by Wikipedia. (And no, “Mr. Sad Eyes” Jimmy Wales doesn’t count.)
You’re one of the top websites in the entire world.
Surely you can find an amazing and inspiring story to tell…
Like a poor kid who didn’t think he’d be able to go to college, but thanks to the knowledge he gleaned on Wikipedia, he was able to improve his grades and earn an ivy-league scholarship.
You probably have 50,000 of these stories sitting in your firstname.lastname@example.org inbox.
Now just set up a Skype call with a few of these people (Skype is free), and get their stories.
It’s not hard—just ask a few questions and listen while they pour out their hearts.
Type up a few of those stories and swap ’em out with the ad copy you have right now.
(Or if you still think your “we-we” copy is the way to go, throw together a quick A/B test and see which one gets more donations.)
I’ll bet you $3 that a good yank on the old heart strings will win the day.
P.S. My billable rate is $200 an hour, and I’ve spent 27 minutes helping you out on this one. Can I get a receipt for my taxes?
P.P.S. If you’d been through the CopyHour program you’d already know all this—plus hundreds more techniques to help you keep those dollars flowing and the green server lights blinking.
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