Let’s Break Some Rules!


If I’m in an empty parking lot with nobody around as far as the eye can see, I will still follow the arrows and not cut through other parking spots to get where I need to go.

I’m a rule follower.

But today I’m going to ask you to break some rules.

Grammar rules.

Because when you break some of the grammar rules you’ve been following most of your life, something interesting happens. Your writing comes alive, and you start to sound like a real person.

The purpose of direct response fundraising writing is to build a relationship with your donor. What’s the best way to do that? By sounding like a human!

Are you feeling uncomfortable?

I get it.

At first, breaking grammar rules bugged me. Now… I delight in it! Because I’ve seen how much more donors connect with a letter or email that sounds like it’s coming from a real person.

So let me suggest a shift in thinking.

Instead of thinking, “I’m breaking the basic rules of grammar,” shift to “I’m writing with a more personal style that better connects with donors.”

This is the art of direct response fundraising writing.

You see, the most effective writing in direct response fundraising includes imitating how people talk in real life conversations. This means you do things like…

  • Start sentences with And or But.
  • Vary your paragraph length. Use a short one-liner, then a three-liner, then maybe a two-liner. No long hamburger paragraphs from grade school!
  • Sprinkle in em dashes — and ellipses … (I call these … drama dots) for dramatic effect or a break in the rhythm.
  • End a sentence with a preposition sometimes (GASP!).
  • Use a sentence fragment to make a point (DOUBLE GASP!!!).

Remember, you are not writing a grant application. Grant applications have their (very important) place. But… have you ever willingly read a grant application?

If you are getting pushback internally, please read this post.

You must do better than grant application writing to keep your donors reading.

The more your direct response writing reflects a living, breathing, emotional, messy, interesting human being… the more likely your donors will keep reading and keep engaging with your mission.

And that’s what this is all about, right?

Break free from grammar rules and let me know how it goes! Comment here or find me on Twitter @sarahlundberg.

“It’s Too Easy to Read!” The One Complaint I’ve Never Heard from a Donor

In my 20 years of nonprofit work, there’s one complaint I have NEVER heard from a donor.

I’ve never heard a donor complain that something is too easy to read and understand.

But interestingly enough… that IS something a lot of organizations worry about.

The worry goes something like this:

  • “We don’t want donors to think we’re talking down to them!”
  • “That doesn’t sound like our executive director!”
  • “Our donors are different… they are educated!”

There’s a Steven Screen saying that I have on a sticky note next to my computer screen: “Nobody has to read your fundraising.”

Painful… but true!

If you don’t make your fundraising easy to read, most donors will stop trying.

That’s why you need to do the work to make your fundraising communications easy to read.

When you make your fundraising communications easy to read and understand, more donors will read. And that will lead to you raising more money.

Here are three simple things you can do to make your communications easier to read.

  • Use short sentences.
  • Use words that are easy to understand (and limit organizational jargon!).
  • Don’t be afraid of sentence fragments or starting a sentence with And or But.

Here’s the thing…

This has nothing to do with how smart your donors are. Your donors ARE smart – I get it! But your donors are busy, and they have a bunch of things competing for their attention at any given moment.

So… you must do the hard work to make things simple and easy to understand.

It’s worth it – I promise!

Before I go, I want to share a free resource you can use to help you make your fundraising communications easy to understand. I use it all the time!


Copy and paste your text and Hemingway will assign a reading level and highlight complex sentences. Aim for a 6th – 7th grade reading level.

When you do the hard work to make your fundraising communications easy to read and understand, your donors are more likely to give. It’s that simple! Give it a try and let me know how it goes. Find me on Twitter @sarahlundberg.

5 Tips for Getting Internal Feedback that Doesn’t Make You Scream

Picture this:

You create a high impact direct mail fundraising piece. You have a strong fundraising offer. You write using a structure that is proven to work. You use simple language that is easy to understand.

Now it’s time to…


…get internal feedback and approval so you can send your mailing to donors.

(cue: terrified scream…..!!!!!)

Here are five tips to help make this process easier so you get feedback that DOESN’T make you scream.

  1. Keep your feedback list small. Who absolutely MUST see the mailing before it can go out? Keep that list to one or two people, including the letter signer. If your list is more than two, have a conversation with your boss and see who you can gently release from this process. When people at your organization give feedback without understanding direct mail fundraising, you end up with a less effective mailing.
  2. Ask for “feedback” rather than “edits.” When you ask for “feedback” you leave room for YOU to use your training and discretion to make a change or not. When you ask for “edits” you may give the impression that you will make the changes… all the changes… that are sent your way. Cue the screaming.
  3. Give context before asking for feedback. When you ask for feedback from someone who is not trained in fundraising, they may inadvertently remove the things that make the piece effective. Give them a heads up about the important parts of the piece that need to stay the same for the piece to raise money. (cough – hands off the first four paragraphs and the P.S.!)
  4. Be specific what feedback you are asking for. When you ask for general feedback, you will get a range of opinions that are not helpful. Ask specifically for what you want. Factual corrections? Design input? Grammatical proofing? Final approval from the signer? Ask for what you want specifically from each person on your feedback list, and you will filter out some of the opinions that don’t help get the job done.
  5. Give them a due date… and build in some cushion time. Make sure your mailing doesn’t get derailed because it’s sitting on a pile somewhere. Be clear about the due date, and follow up to make sure you get the feedback when you need it.

Getting internal feedback can be a frustrating process, but it doesn’t have to be. These five tips will help you get the feedback you need without wanting to scream. Give it a try and let me know how it goes by commenting on this post!

Lazy Summer Days – Are You Making the Mistake of Resting Your Donors?

Beach rest vacation.

In these last few summer days, I’m bringing you an important message.

Picture me, sitting in a beach chair. I’m relaxed. I’m on vacation. I am lulled into thinking the whole world is on vacation, including donors. Fundraising? Nah. Not a good time.

Danger! Danger!

This time of year, it can be so tempting to be lulled into the kind of thinking that causes you to raise less money. It’s the lazy last days of summer.

Donors need a rest from fundraising, right?


A couple years ago I was listening to Better Fundraising co-founder Steven Screen as he spoke at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference.

Steven shared this little gem, which has haunted me ever since:

“When you rest your donors, they can forget how to give to your organization.”


Thanks, Steven.

Here’s the reality of these lazy summer days.

SOME of your donors are checked out at the end of summer. But many donors are not checked out!

You have donors in your file right now who are ready to give, if only they knew the problem and how they could make it better. If only you would ask them to give!

And here’s the thing: other organizations are in your donor’s mailbox right now, reminding them how they can help, while you – giving these donors a rest – are slowly fading from their memory. There’s a thought to ruin a lazy beach day.

When you make the decision to rest your donors, you’re taking their choices away from them. You are deciding they won’t give… without even asking them!

Here’s something you can do today.

If your organization has a need… send your donors a fundraising email! And in next year’s calendar, pencil in an August appeal. Do not schedule a rest for your donors.