If ‘Sounding Like You’ Were the Key to Success, Wouldn’t You Already Be Raising More?


For the holidays this year I’m sharing my fundraising posts that got the most reactions on social media, and the story behind each idea.

Here’s #6…

When people critique fundraising by saying, “this doesn’t sound like me/us,” I always think, “Well, if ‘sounding like you’ were the key, wouldn’t you be raising more money than you currently are?”

I’m intentionally poking at a sacred cow here.

There’s a lot to unpack from just one sentence, but here goes:

  • There’s a tendency in nonprofits to believe that they can’t make changes to their voice.
  • There’s also a tendency to believe that an it’s an organization’s voice that is mostly responsible for their fundraising success.
  • And there’s a tendency to apply their voice legalistically so that the organization says the same thing, in the same way, regardless of who they are talking to or how they are talking to them.

That’s in direct contrast to the organizations that, in my experience, create the most effective fundraising:

  1. They are constantly evolving and improving their voice in order to raise more money.
  2. They know that their fundraising success is driven more by what they say to donors, as opposed to the “voice” they use to say it.
  3. Their voice – and the people applying it – are flexible enough to change based on who is being communicated to, and on how the communication is occurring. (e.g., A fundraising email sent to non-experts will intentionally sound different than an E.D.’s remarks at an event, because in an email you have people’s attention for a few seconds, and at an event you have their attention for an hour.)

The most successful organizational voices are flexible enough so that they can communicate differently to different audiences, and be used differently in different communication channels, yet still sound like the same organization.

If you find that your organization’s “voice” won’t allow you to communicate effectively in some types of fundraising to some audiences, you probably need to apply your voice less legalistically.

The good news is that as soon as you do, you’ll start communicating more effectively and raising more money.

Why “Does this sound like us?” is not a good question.


A quick note to anyone who has said or heard the following when reviewing a fundraising appeal or e-appeal:

“But this doesn’t sound like us!”

The next time you hear that – or say it – I want you to ask a different question:

“Will sounding like this raise more money than we normally do?”

That’s what I’d call a better question.  And better questions lead you to raising more money.

“Does This Sound Like Us?” is Not a Good Question

“Does this sound like us?” is one of the first questions people ask when reviewing direct response fundraising (appeals, e-appeals, newsletters, radiothon scripts, etc.).

They believe that “sounding like us” is one of the main keys to fundraising success.

But “sounding like us” is rarely one of the keys to fundraising success in direct response. 

In my experience, “sounding like us” usually causes organizations to raise less money, retain fewer donors, and do less good.

At this point in my career, I’ve probably written a hundred appeals that did not “sound like” the organization yet still raised more than any appeal the organization had ever sent before.

A Better Question

The better question for someone reviewing fundraising to ask is, “Does this sound like successful direct response fundraising?”

It’s hard to get organizations to ask themselves that question.  Many smaller organizations don’t realize that the specialty of direct response fundraising even exists.

Fewer still know or have access to the best practices.

But getting organizations – and anyone who reviews fundraising – to ask “Does this sound like successful direct response fundraising” is the best place to start.