But I’m Not a Fundraiser… Going from Marketer to Fundraiser

Confused marketer

In September of 2019, I began the journey from marketing professional to fundraising professional.

Some parts of that journey were startling, others were more subtle.

I’m writing this three-post blog series to share what changed. Maybe you will recognize some of these feelings on your journey.

One day in early September my new boss and I were chatting. He was worried about the year-end fundraising appeal. We had no development director, so I (as the not-very-interested in fundraising) Director of Marketing, agreed that I would take a crack at learning what I needed to know to write a letter that would raise money.


As I began my deep dive into learning how to do fundraising appeals that worked, I explored paid learning opportunities, free resources, and read many, many books.

The more I learned, the more irritated I became.

But I was also deeply fascinated.

I had been involved in putting out fundraising appeals for nearly a decade. Mostly editing and design. And they never worked that well. They raised some money… but not much.

It finally broke through to me that there were certain things that worked in direct mail and email fundraising, and certain things that did NOT work.

This wasn’t some big cosmic mystery! These things had been tested, re-tested, and tested some more on other organizations.

And my instincts as a marketing director seemed to be all wrong.

Instincts like…

  • Make it look professional.
  • Use correct grammar.
  • Don’t (for the love of PETE) make it longer than one side of one page.
  • Don’t be too direct or pushy.
  • Don’t worry about reply cards — they don’t really make a difference.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and… wrong again.

Now, I’m a competitive person. I don’t like to be wrong.

And there was a moment where my defenses started to kick in… I was tempted to dismiss what I was learning because it SEEMED wrong.

But what was actually wrong was… I was following a different set of rules. Marketing rules instead of fundraising rules.

I realized I could learn these new and different rules. Rules that made me terribly uncomfortable because they were so different from what my instincts told me.

I wrote a year-end fundraising letter following the “new” guidelines.

And that’s when the magic started.

Comment here or find me on Twitter @sarahlundberg.

Read the series:

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.