From Jargon to Generosity


If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you understand that when donors open your appeal letters and e-appeals, they don’t read, they skim.

And that when you bold or underline portions of your letter, what you’re really doing is choosing what your donor is most likely to read.

This means you have to make absolutely sure that whatever you’ve bolded or underlined is EASY for your reader to understand.

Now take a look at this highlighted copy from the first page of a letter that recently came across my desk …

  • “Your gift of as little as $44 can provide quality resources for a child at the children’s home.”

What the heck are “quality resources”?


Does bolding or underlining a phrase that’s not easy to understand torpedo the letter and cause no one to donate?

No way.

Because if a person reads the whole letter that this sentence was part of, they can figure out what “quality resources” are. And some readers will know what the organization is referring to.

But does bolding or underlining anything that’s not immediately crystal clear make the reader have to work harder to understand?


And the harder you make your reader work, the fewer donations you’re going to get.

Make Generous Choices

Keep your reader in mind when you write and design your fundraising.

Make these two generous choices:

  1. Use words and phrases that your reader will immediately understand. It’s generous to cross the gap to your reader’s level of understanding (as opposed to making your reader cross the gap to your level of understanding).
  2. Use your bolding and underlining (and other forms of visual emphasis) to emphasize text that summarizes your whole letter. In other words, a reader should be able to read just the emphasized text and know what your letter/email is about and what’s being asked of them. It’s a generous act to write and design your letter/email so that a reader doesn’t have to read the whole thing to get the point.

So… does your organization have any phrases that are equivalent to “quality resources”? Any phrases that you use often, even though they are a bit of barrier because most donors don’t quite know what they mean?

What’s a clearer way your organization could phrase them to be more generous to your readers and donors?

After all, your donors are extraordinarily generous to your organization. How could your organization’s writing and fundraising be a little more generous to donors?


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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