Be careful with the phrase, ‘You can help a person like…’


It’s a classic fundraising move.

The appeal letter or email tells a story about a person that your organization has already helped. Let’s call her Catherine. At the end of the story, thanks to your organization’s work, Catherine is doing great.

Then the very next paragraph says, “You can help a person like Catherine today with a gift!”

Whenever I see that I wonder to myself…

“Why did they ask me to help a person ‘like Catherine’? Catherine does not need my help! The whole emphasis of the story is that she’s been helped and is doing great – so if the person is ‘like Catherine’ then they don’t need my help!

It doesn’t make sense to ask the donor to help a person who has already been helped… right?!?

Now, you and I both know what’s going on here. The organization is using the phrase “help a person like Catherine” to mean something like, “help a person who today needs the same type of help that Catherine received.”

But here’s the problem. By not clearly saying what they mean, the letter is a) a little harder to understand, and b) hiding the need.

If I’ve learned anything in my fundraising writing career (30 years as of last month!) it’s that clearly saying what you mean will raise more money than kind of hinting at it and hoping that donors will get it. And I’ve learned that saying that “there are people who need help today” will help you raise more money (and help more people) than accidentally hiding the need.

So, I replace “help a person like…” with sentences like

  • “…help a person who is in the same situation today that Catherine was in: [describe the situation Catherine was facing that she needed help with].” An example of this would be, “You can help a person who is in the same situation today that Catherine was in: unable to afford a college education on her own.” This option still links the statement to Catherine, and clearly states the need that exists today.
  • Here’s another option: “…help a person that [state the services you provide and how they meet the needs]…” For example, “You can help a person by providing a scholarship that will enable them to go to college.” This option doesn’t flat out state the need, but it clearly indicates that the need exists.

It’s good to always remember how fast most individual donors are moving when they read fundraising.

So it’s good to review fundraising writing to make sure it means exactly what we are trying to mean. Any time we Fundraisers make the donor have to figure out what we mean, we raise less money.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *