Four Accidental Barriers to Connection with Your Donors

Traffic cones.

I see four main ways that organizations accidentally place barriers between their organization and their donors…

Design/Type Size

Here’s the situation in a nutshell: if your fundraising materials use small, hard-to-read type, you’re making it harder for older donors to read your fundraising. Fewer people reading your fundraising means you’ll raise less money.


Any time an organization finds itself using words and phrases that it uses when communicating with other professionals in your domain, that’s probably jargon.

Examples include phrases like, “provide quality resources” and “food insecure.” An example of a jargon-filled ask is, “Will you provide transition out of poverty case management support?”

Any time jargon enters your mass donor fundraising, it’s probably causing you to raise a little less money because it asks your readers to figure out exactly what you mean. Asking your readers to figure out what you mean is a sure path to fewer people reading your fundraising.

By the way, using jargon is usually a symptom of not differentiating who the audience is. When you’re submitting a grant application, of course you should use jargon because it’s a shared language with the grantor.

But jargon is not shared with the vast majority of individual donors. Don’t ask them to understand your vocabulary, make the generous act of “crossing the gap” to your readers by using language that they would use.

Too Much Organization

You’ve seen these before: fundraising materials that are overly focused on the organization itself. Organizations are in danger of this any time they talk about what their programs are, how those programs work, and how or what the organization thinks about their work.

But it’s a safe bet that individual donors care far more about what their gift will accomplish – what change will take place if they give – than they care about how the organization will make the change.

This barrier, too, tends to come from a lack of differentiation. Foundations and partner organizations are rightfully interested in programs and exactly how an organization will use their money and/or time. To that audience, content about the organization is appropriate. But individual donors are more interested in the change itself.

Going Conceptual

The final barrier is a sneaky one (even more sneaky than jargon). It’s using a concept or an abstraction as a primary description of what the donor’s gift will do/has done.

Here are some examples:

  • “Will you provide a special day?” instead of, “Will you send a child to summer camp for one day?”
  • “Your gift made Evelyn’s story possible” instead of, “Your gift made Evelyn’s recovery from child abuse possible.”
  • “Jamie found freedom, thanks to you!” instead of, “Jamie’s new wheelchair lets him go anywhere, thanks to you!”

Notice above that I said “primary description.” Concepts like the ones above are fine – helpful, even – when used to give your donor a fuller picture of what their gift will accomplish. But keep the concepts in the body of your fundraising message, and stay specific in places like the emphasized copy, the subject line, the reply card headline, the reply card action copy, and the Johnson box.

This advice is based on sending thousands of appeals, e-appeals and newsletters and noticing that the most effective communications to individual donors tend to have concrete, specific descriptions of what the donor’s gift will do or has done.

What’s Next?

Look through your organization’s fundraising materials to individual donors. Is your organization accidentally put up any barriers?

If you can identify and eliminate barriers like these, our experience is that you’ll immediately begin raising more money and be able to do more of your organization’s important work.

You’ll also know that you’re doing the right thing.

When you make the generous choice to create fundraising that’s more accessible to more people – making it easier to read, easier to understand, about what the donor cares about instead of about what the organization cares about – you’ve made your fundraising communications more inclusive to more people.


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.

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