Embed the Problem in the Solution

problem solution

Doing some head-to-head testing, we noticed something powerful.

The phrase:

  • “Your gift today will provide clean water for a family”

Raised less money than the phrase:

  • “Your gift today will provide clean, disease-free water for a family.”

This little test teaches a couple powerful things that I’ve seen work again and again…

Embed the Problem in How You Describe the Solution

You see this all the time in political fundraising:

  • “Elect Biden for a Trump-free future!”
  • “Elect Trump to save our country from socialism!”

In both of those cases, the copywriter has embedded the problem (or the enemy) in the solution.  The copywriter is making it clear that something bad will happen if the donor doesn’t give a gift. 

This is a powerful 2-for-1 because you hit two buttons in the donor’s brain in one sentence:

  • You hit the “I want to do the positive thing!” button
  • You hit the “I want to stop the negative thing!” button

You already know that the more reasons you can give your donor to give a gift right now, the more likely a donor is to respond to your fundraising.  And the copywriting tactic above allows you to provide two reasons in one sentence.

Where You Can Use This Tactic

Here are three main places we use this powerful tactic:

  • The first time your letter or email describes what the donor’s gift will do
  • The P.S.
  • The headline of your reply card / landing page

Those are the high-profile locations that donors are most likely to see as they scan your direct response letters and emails.  This tactic allows you to use those high-profile locations as effectively as possible.

This tactic works great any time space or attention is limited.  In other words, if you aren’t using this in your Facebook and Google ads, you could be raising more money.

Example Time

Here are a slew of made-up examples to show you how this tactic can work across any sector:

  • You can provide racially-blind admissions assistance
  • You can provide gospel teaching that’s free from relativism
  • You can kill the cancer and save the person
  • You can end the commercialization of our town by supporting the arts
  • You can stop the developers and stand for the land
  • You can stick it to the pharmaceutical companies and fund research that will save lives
  • You can erase the shortfall and protect the kids

You get it. 

Now, go look at your fundraising.  How can you embed the problem in how you describe what your donor’s gift will do? 

Three EASY Copy Changes

three things

I edit a lot of fundraising copy.

And then because I’m a glutton for punishment (OK actually I love it), I do it for free, live, most Friday mornings right here.

I noticed the other day that there are three changes that I make to almost every piece I see.

These edits are EASY to make. And all of them will help you raise more money in your appeals, e-appeals and newsletters.

Take Your Organization Out

Any time you see “we” or “our,” immediately look for a way to take it out and replace it with a mention of the donor.

When you’re Asking in appeal letters and e-appeals, change things like, “We can help a local child get online so they can catch up in school” to “Your generosity will get a local child online so they can…”

Notice how this makes the donor the hero, rather than your organization.

When you’re Reporting in your newsletter, change things like, “Our Internet Hotspot program allowed Gregory to get online and get caught up to his class” to “You helped provide Gregory with a hotspot, and now he’s online and caught up with his class!”

Notice how this makes the donor the hero, not your organization or your program.

And notice how making your donor the hero is a theme around here. 🙂

Lead with What the Donor Values Most

Always try to put the most important thing first.

This is usually the outcome of your work, and not the program or process by which your organization made the outcome possible.

When Asking, change things like,

Your generosity will support our Internet Hotspot program, which will help get a local child online so they can get caught up in school”


Your generosity will help get a child caught up in school by getting them online….”

When Reporting, change copy that says,

You supported our Internet Hotspot program that gets children online. Thank you for providing a local child with a hotspot so they could get caught up in class”


You helped Gregory catch up in class by providing him with a hotspot.”

Make It Singular

When I’m Asking a donor to make a gift, I’m always looking to make it as easy as possible for her to say “yes.”

So I always ask donors to do a small thing instead of asking them to do a big thing.

So when you’re Asking, change, “Will you please help all the students in Bloom County to have internet access” to “Will you please help one student in Bloom County get internet access?”

I think of these as an “easy yes” versus a “harder yes.” I (and you!) always want to ask for an easier “yes.”

It works in Reporting back to donors, too. Change “Thank you for helping 1,437 students in Bloom County…” to “Thank you for helping Gregory and other students in Bloom County…”

And there’s another reason to make this edit: your donor knows she can’t help all the students. That’s a huge problem. So ask her to do something she knows she can do; help one person, solve one problem, do one thing, etc.

It’s Not Magic

When an experienced copywriter edits or writes fundraising, it can seem like magic.

But it’s not. It’s just a handful of principles like these, played out sentence by sentence.

And you can learn it.

Start with these three principles. Keep working on them until they happen by reflex – where you don’t even have to think about it.

Pretty soon everything you write will begin to seem like magic to the people you work with. And you’ll love how much money comes in!