I’ll start with what a “white paper” is. You may have read one but didn’t know you did. White papers are five to ten page “reports” that businesses put out to tell more about their product or service. But a white paper is more than that. They are authoritatively written with the tone and feel of an information, education or news piece, but they only focus on the product of the company.
In the nonprofit world you’ve seen white papers used by fundraising software companies. One of your favorite software vendors wants to address a legitimate complaint in fundraising – say, prospect management. That’s great and we can all use more information on prospect management. But, all the references to any technology solution to the prospect management problems are addressed in terms of the vendor’s software. Is it an information piece? Certainly. There’s a lot of solid information on prospect management from good, legitimate sources. Is it a sales piece? Yes, it’s that, too. By presenting the solutions in terms of the vendor’s software, the white paper becomes an excellent platform to showcase the product.
At this point you may be saying “that’s fine for commercial sales, even sales into the nonprofit market, but how can nonprofits use white papers to raise more money?” (Okay, maybe you didn’t think that, but let’s go with it…!) The answer? “Yes, as a nonprofit you can use white papers… and it’s pretty simple.”
What is your mission? Let’s say it’s disaster emergency response. It’s a legitimate cause that is of concern to hundreds of thousands of prospective donors. You do important work in providing services to people with dire need. The statistics on the need are clear. Your service in fulfilling that need is clear. The white paper? An in-depth piece on the problem – in this case disaster emergency response – and how that problem is addressed. You use examples from your organization, what some of your donors have done to help you, and how new donors can join in making a difference.
Okay, now that you have the white paper, how do you use it? Plenty of ways – white papers are very versatile. One of the big uses of white papers is as a “premium product.” You can use it as an incentive to leave an e-mail on your web site. (“Sign up here for an important report on world disasters.”) You can e-mail it to your top donors as “insider information” to bolster their support. You might even feature some of those donors in the report as a cultivation step. White papers also make great give-aways at talks and constituent meetings. It’s something of substance that your donors and friends appreciate because it goes deeper than the typical brochure or solicitation letter. And good white papers do more – they build your reputation as a leader in your field.
So think of white papers as a way of educating key constituents on the plight of those your mission serves, and to showcase how you meet those needs.
Can you write a white paper? Sure. But make sure you take the time and do the research to make it valuable information to prospective donors and the public alike. And if you don’t have that time but want a quality product, give me a call to help.