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1980s Hands Across America picture of young people holding hands in the desert

The power of “holding hands” in your fundraising

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Brett here:

If (like me) you were around for Hands Across America in 1986 ... I'm guessing you too remember it as a wonderfully cheesy Big Idea — a very American charitable idea: part marketing schlock, part irresistible idealism.

I suppose America has long leaned in this direction, and I further suppose we were leaning especially far in the '70s and '80s.

Take, for example, this gloriously goofy 1971 commercial (click the pic to enjoy a Coke and a smile):

1971 Coke commercial screenshot

Wow, it's capitalism, it's progressivism — it's undeniable!

But Hands Across America was no commercial for any product ... unless, maybe, the product was America and the consumer was Every Other Country in the World.

Here's pretty much how I remember this elaborate event (except I grew up in Illinois — nary a Saguaro in sight):

"Participants stretch their hands in the desert west of Phoenix to help form a human chain from New York to Long Beach, California, in Hands Across America."


For the people in need who benefited from the Hands Across America t-shirt sales profits, the day was a $15 million success.

For participants like me (15 at the time) it was fun, kind of.

It was a pre-social-media photo-op (to the max).

AND it changed the world! Maybe? For a moment? Who knows. Every smidge of effort counts, right?

I mean, maybe the unifying sentiment of Hands Across America was the tipping point that prevented WWIII. Maybe it's what led to the fall of the Berlin Wall 3 years later.

Okay, no, probably not — but we'll never have clarity because there is no way for us to A/B test it. So...

... let's hold this thought and crystallize it:

The power of holding hands is (possibly) bigger than all of us. It's certainly big enough to make a difference in your fundraising.

And so I wonder if you know about...

The power of “holding hands” in your fundraising 🤝

When I was an English teacher, I hit on the idea that one particularly good kind of transition amounts to "holding hands across paragraphs."

It's a visual metaphor meant to be memorable. It helped some 8th graders. I think it could help you too.

Back in those days, many of my writing assignments included checklists for editing and revising — and one item on those checklists was often something along the lines of:

"Have you ensured that your transitions hold hands across paragraphs?"


The idea is that there are 2 kinds of transitions:

  1. The kind of transition that builds conceptually on what came before.
  2. The kind of transition that connects to one or more specific elements of what came before.

Let's look at some examples, all of them from a draft of an appeal Julie and I are writing for a client (about protecting and restoring wetlands in New Zealand).

Here's an example of #1:

A screenshot of the following text: "The one person chosen by our government to (like the Lorax) “speak for the trees” . . . instead seems to be speaking for the mines and industry’s deep pockets. 	I suppose we’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again. 	Yet we won’t stand idly by. "

Notice that the second paragraph builds conceptually on the first by commenting on it —

The first paragraph is about a government official doing the bidding of industry.

The second paragraph contains commentary on the first paragraph.

The third paragraph builds conceptually on the second by using the transition word "yet" and then declaring a position of opposition.

These simple transitions are common. They're appropriate most of the time.

BUT you can (sometimes; not always, that would be nauseating) write more powerful transitions that connect to specific words and/or phrases in the previous paragraph.

Here's an example of #2:

A screenshot showing the text: "“I think the kids would say I’m crazy about birds,” Andrea says. “But it’s biodiversity in general, really. That’s why we support Forest & Bird. We just want to help, along with so many other people, to right the balance.”    Please help right the balance by making a gift today to protect and restore our wetlands."

Notice that the second paragraph reuses a phrase from the quotation in the first paragraph: "right the balance" —

In the first paragraph, the phrase is a key idea expressed by a person who's making a difference for the wetlands.

In the second paragraph, the phrase is echoed/repurposed to amplify the ASK that invites the supporter to donate.

Here's another example of #2: 

A screenshot of the text: "This is just the beginning, Franny explained. “We need to commit resources to determining the Pūweto’s local status and responding to better protect them if needed — as a threatened species, they’re a priority for our project to look after.” Can you imagine how many other threatened species are finding shelter in the protective arms of our wetlands? Yes, Every Wetland Counts. You do too! And every dollar you give today will be a lifeline for threatened species like the spotless crake and the protection and restoration of their wetland homes. So please, will you make a gift on behalf of our endangered wetlands and all their creatures?"

This time, let's play a wee game ...

Before I continue, see if you can spot the specific connections that "holds hands across paragraphs."

Okay, time's up. ⌛

The first and second paragraphs connect by holding hands via exact repetition of the phrase "threatened species."

The second and third paragraphs connect by holding hands via repetition/slight variation: "wetlands/wetland."

The third and fourth paragraphs connect by holding hands with the adjoining ideas "Every Wetland Counts/You do too!" (To connect the campaign name to the donor.)

This kind of transition (#2) is easy once you get the hang of it. It only takes practice.

And it's worth the trouble, because specific connections that hold hands across paragraphs can keep pulling your readers along from beginning to end.

a woman leading the way, arm reaching back to pull someone along by the hand

If you pull your donors along "for the whole ride," surely they're "on your side!" 




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