Fast, Bad and Wrong

I learned this writing tactic from a podcast, and hope it’s as helpful to you as it has been to me:

If you can’t get started writing something – or if you get stuck – just concentrate on writing fast, bad, and wrong. 

The acronym for this is “FBR.”  Even the acronym is wrong!

From the podcast:

“Write fast, write bad, and write wrong. Terrible style, terrible grammar, terrible word choice, wrong facts, and that liberates you.  And don’t stop and backtrack, because every time you stop, it’s like a car going down the highway – it’s easy to stop, but then you have to spend all this fuel to get back up to speed, and you might not get there.”

Here’s what I do: just start writing, and then just keep going. 

You can describe what you are trying to write.  You can get a few stray thoughts out of your head.  You can write the end before the middle.

But don’t edit now.  Just keep going.  The magic happens after you’ve been writing for a moment or three. 

All the sudden, a helpful thought occurs.  Then a sentence arrives.  Before you know it, a pretty good paragraph just happened.

That will happen a few more times. 

Then you have enough of those to where you know the rough structure of whatever you’re writing. 

And once you know the main ideas and the structure, the rest is connective tissue. 

Then go back and edit out the junk that helped you get there. 

FBR works for emails to co-workers, too. 

Here’s something crazy; it works for making plans.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down with teammates and clients to figure something out.  If we’re not getting anywhere, and I have a vaguest sense of an idea, I just say that I have an FBR plan to throw out to get us started. More often than you’d think, a great plan gets iterated out of the mud I threw on the wall. 

The FBR approach removes the fear from taking the first step because it lowers the stakes.  And the second and third steps are always easier than the first.      

The next time you’re writing a piece of fundraising and you’re stuck, think FBR, get started, and keep going.  You, your beneficiaries, and your donors will be glad you did! 

How to Write As If You’re Talking to One Person


Experienced copywriters say things like this all the time:

“The best fundraising sounds like it’s from one person to one person.”

But how do you write fundraising and make it sound like you’re talking to one person?

Here’s how. The following are the ideas I have in my head as I create fundraising materials. One or all of them should help you!

Have One Person in Mind

Most of your donors will have several common traits. You can create a fictional person, imbue them with the traits your donors have, and write your letters/emails/newsletters to that person.

At my first fundraising job, there was a cardboard cutout of an older woman right inside the front door. We were instructed to write all our letters to her.

The fancy marketing word for this is “persona.” Large nonprofits with lots of donors have multiple personas; personas for online donors, personas for major donors, personas for event participants, etc.

The point is the same: visualize who you are writing to and then write to that one person.

Watch Your Plurals

If you’re writing to one person, you don’t use the plural to refer to him or her.

So don’t use plurals like these in your fundraising writing:

  • “Dear Friends,”
  • “All of your gifts…” (which doesn’t make sense for a donor who has only given one gift)
  • “Thank you to everyone who…”

What you want to watch out for is anything that makes the reader think, “Oh, I thought this thing I’m reading was to me, but it turns out it’s to everybody.”

Use the Donor’s Name

Merge in the donor’s name. It’s commonplace to merge the donor’s name in the salutation, and it’s a pro move to merge their name in the letter itself.

For instance, if there’s a paragraph I particularly want the donor to read, I often use the donor’s name as the first word in a paragraph.

People are trained from birth to pay attention to what’s said immediately after their name. Use that to your advantage!

Use the Word ‘You’

This is the obvious one. Second only to a person’s name, the word “you” gets people’s attention.

But there’s another reason “you” is so helpful: it transforms a truth about your organization into a personal truth for the donor.

You can FEEL the emotional difference between, “A gift to our organization will fight cancer” and, “your gift will fight cancer.”

I have a general rule of thumb for when I edit fundraising: whenever I see the organization’s name, I try to delete it and replace it with the word “you.” It’s not the right thing to do in all cases, but it’s the right thing to do in most cases.

Use the Language a Donor Would Use

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who has a stellar vocabulary and kind of shows it off? Or talked to a person who’s an expert in their field and is constantly using jargon and you’re not quite sure what it means?

What’s the result when people like that talk to you? It makes you feel like the person isn’t really talking to you. It makes you feel like they are kind of talking to themselves and people “just like them.”

By using language that insiders value and appreciate, a lot of nonprofits accidentally make their donors feel like outsiders.

But using language that a donor would use crosses the gap to donors, instead of widening the gap.

Think of It This Way

Donors are looking for organizations that make it easy for them to understand what’s going on in the world and how their gift will help.

If you follow these rules, you’ll create fundraising that makes each of your donors think, “Hey, this organization is writing to me.” She’s more likely to feel known, and you’ll make it easy for her to understand what you’re writing about.

And you’ll notice that your fundraising results will tick up meaningfully.

Greatest Hit: Five Tips for the First Sentence of Your Next Newsletter Article

The following post is one of the most popular posts in the history of this blog.

I’m reposting it because you might be new to the blog, or you might be like me and need to hear a piece of advice more than once before it really sinks in.

This post proved helpful to thousands of people, I hope it’s helpful for you!

The first sentence of every newsletter story is really important.

Don’t do what most nonprofits do. They assume that all donors read to the end of all articles. I routinely review newsletters where the most powerful parts of the stories are in the last paragraphs – where very few people will see it. Because all the eye-tracking studies show that most donors don’t “read” your newsletter. They scan it.

So, you want to work hard on the first sentence of your newsletter articles and stories. If the donor likes your first sentence, she’s more likely to read your second sentence, and so on.

And you don’t have to be a “writer” to make the first sentences of your newsletter sing. But you do have to think about them differently. I have 25 years experience that testifies that the following ‘ways of thinking differently’ about how your start your newsletter articles will help you raise more money.

Keep it simple

Make it short and easy to read. No long sentences. No complex sentences with multiple clauses. Your reader should be halfway into the second sentence before she realizes it.

Now you have momentum. Now you have a greater chance your donor is going to get the message you’re sending her.

Good Example: “Ebola took everything Elisabeth had.”

It’s not about your organization

The first sentence of any newsletter article should never be about your organization or staff.

The most successful newsletters are written with the purpose of showing your donor what her gift accomplished. Not to talk about all of the things you’ve been doing or have coming up. Because more people are reading your newsletter wondering “I wonder if my gift made a difference?” than are wondering “I wonder what the organization has been working on?”

So, your first sentence should be about the donor, or about a beneficiary.

(And remember: as your donor is deciding whether to read your story or not, she is in a hurry and has other things asking for her attention. So, if your first sentence is about your organization or staff, she’s just not as likely to keep reading.)

After all, would you be more likely to keep reading if the story was about something amazing you helped do, or something an organization you support is working on?

Bad Example: “After landing in the capital city of Kinshasa, The Democratic Republic of Congo, our team traveled inland to a village outside the town of Kivuvu.” Why would a busy donor keep reading?

Good Example: “Thanks to you, Sarah’s life turned completely around.” Bonus points for including the donor and a beneficiary in the very first sentence!

It’s the start of a summary

I need to do an entire post on writing newsletter stories. But here’s one of my tricks; the first paragraph is often a summary of the whole article.

Why? Because most people are not going to read the whole article, but you still want them to get the message you’re trying to send. So if you summarize the message in a compelling way two great things happen:

  1. More people get the message you’re sending
  2. More people will read the whole thing

Good Example: “Your gift did something simple but life changing for a mother named Teri Maes, and you might have saved the lives of her two sons.” This one is a little long, but it summarizes the whole story AND includes the donor!

Don’t start with a statistic

In a nutshell, experts love statistics. But donor’s don’t.

Experts like you, your staff, and your incredible program people love statistics. Statistics are meaningful to experts because they provide context, show progress, and show expertise.

But that’s not what most donors are looking for. They are looking for a quick, easy way to know whether their gift to your organization made a difference. That’s usually a story of a beneficiary, with a little editorial content for how the donor’s gift helped the beneficiary.

Starting with a statistic immediately reduces the number of people who will keep reading because it asks the donor to understand something new and then understand why it’s important or helpful. That’s a lot to ask of a non-expert donor who is moving fast.

She’d rather read a story, my friend. So start with a story.

Bad Example: “Only one in nine children in our great state will ever go to a symphony.”

Drama! Action! Peril!

I’m going to quote my post on appeal letters on this one:

“Fill it with drama or make it interesting to your donor. Drama and tension are two of the best tools you have for engaging their interest. Or make it something that would be interesting to your donor – which is likely something different than would be interesting to you!”

My best one-liner about this is, “You want to write like the National Inquirer, not National Geographic.” That probably over-dramatizes it, but drama and emotion catch people’s interest. Most nonprofits assume they have their donor’s interest – and that’s a bad assumption.

Bad Example: “Drs. Martha and Robert Bryant strive to use their medical practice to make an impact.” Who are those people? Why should the donor keep reading?

Good Example: “The first night Jacqueline went to community theater, her life changed in the second act.”

So as you go to work on your next newsletter, here’s what I hope you’ll remember:

  1. Very few people will read an entire newsletter article. So get to the point very quickly, summarize it, then tell the full scope of the story.
  2. To increase the chances that your donor will read more, make your first sentence easy to read and interesting to her!

This post was originally published on February 2, 2018.

What We Have Got Here is a Failure to Differentiate


With apologies to the famous line from Cool Hand Luke, I’d like to talk about differentiation.

Savvy Fundraisers are constantly differentiating as they create an organization’s fundraising.

As you create your organization’s fundraising in 2022, you’ll raise more money and keep more of your donors if you differentiate each piece of fundraising based on:

  • How you’re communicating with your audience
  • Who you’re communicating to
  • What you’re trying to achieve

Let’s look at each…

HOW You’re Communicating

How you communicate with a donor (or potential donor) affects what you can say and how you can say it.

Everyone knows that what you’d say in a long lunch with a donor is different than what you’d say in a two-page direct mail letter.

How you’re communicating in those two contexts is completely different.

But let’s take that even farther: what you’d say in a grant application is different than what you’d say in a two-page direct mail letter.

Even though both are examples of written communication, they are clearly different.  Grant applications are more likely to be pored over, while direct mail letters are more likely to be scanned.

Therefore, a grant application should be written entirely differently than a direct mail letter. 

The form that the communication takes place in should affect what you say and how you say it.

WHO You’re Communicating To

Everyone knows that you would say different things to a person who has a Ph.D. in whatever your organization does, than you would say to a person who knows next to nothing about your field.

We all know that we’d say different things to an involved Major Donor than we would to a person who has made their very first gift.

Who you are talking to should affect what you say and how you say it.

WHAT You’re Trying To Achieve

Everyone knows that you would say different things to a person depending on what you’re trying to achieve.

If you want to ask someone for a favor, you’d say different things than if you were praising them for a job well done.

What you’re hoping to achieve with a piece of communication should affect what you say and how you say it.

What To Look Out For

When I review pieces of fundraising that didn’t work well, I almost always spot a lack of differentiation:

  • The How: a direct mail letter that sounds like a grant application
  • The Who: a newsletter that was written assuming that audience is made up of Ph.D.’s
  • The What: a Thank You email that thanks me for my first gift to an organization and then (in the second paragraph!) asks me to give more and join a high-priced giving circle.

This failure to differentiate costs nonprofits millions of dollars a year.

The causes are pretty simple.  There are inexperienced fundraisers and organizations.  They just don’t know, and you can’t hold it against them because everyone was inexperienced at one point.

And there are people who prefer a specific type or style of communication and refuse to differentiate, using that type or style regardless of context. 

This post is an attempt to help both groups see how they are causing their organization to engage their donors less, and to raise less money.

Does Your Organization Need to Differentiate?

The more you can differentiate, the more money you’ll raise.

For organizations that need to differentiate, one question should become forbidden for anyone to ask.  That question is, “Do we like this piece of fundraising?”

Because liking a piece of fundraising is usually a function of it being the type or style that’s preferred – and isn’t an indication of whether it will work well, or not.

And then one question becomes mandatory – “What would work best in this situation?”

This leads to specific questions like:

  • Who is this piece talking to, and what do they know?
  • What form of communication are we using, and how should that effect what we’re saying?
  • What’s the purpose of this particular piece of communication, and is everything in it working to achieve that one purpose?

Ask questions that help you differentiate, and you’ll create fundraising that engages your donors and raises more money.

Your internal audiences might not prefer your new fundraising as much. But your fundraising should be judged more on how much it raises as opposed to whether internal audiences prefer it. 

Please Don’t “Continue To”

To be continued...

When you ask a donor for a gift in an appeal or e-appeal, you will raise more money if you can focus the donor’s attention on the change that their gift will cause.

Unfortunately, organizations often accidentally emphasize the lack of change that a donor’s gift will cause – and they raise less money because of it.

This is happening every time you see the phrase “continue to” in an appeal or e-appeal.

Example Time

Here are three examples of how “continue to” causes an organization to raise less money from appeals that recently came across my desk…

“Your gift to the Annual Fund enables us to continue to provide the necessary support, programs, and services to our students.”

According to that sentence, will anything change if the reader gives a gift? Nope. If the reader gives, the “necessary support, programs and services” will continue to be provided. There will be no change if the reader gives a gift.

Here’s another example:

“Please join us in making a contribution so we can continue to do work like this…”

If the reader gives, the work will continue to get done. There will be no change.

“Your help is needed now more than ever, so we can continue to provide safe, stable and affordable homes to those in need.”

If the reader gives a gift, the work will continue to get done. No change.

How To Emphasize Change

Here’s how to emphasize the change, using two of the examples above.

Original copy:

“Your gift to the Annual Fund enables us to continue to provide the necessary support, programs, and services to our students.”

New copy:

“Your gift to the Annual Fund will provide necessary support, programs and services to our students.”

Even better copy:

“Your gift to the Annual Fund will provide necessary support, programs and services to a student.”

Compare the “even better” copy to the original. Doesn’t it feel stronger and more direct? I can more-or-less guarantee that it would raise more money.

Here’s the second example from earlier:

“Your help is needed now more than ever, so we can continue to provide safe, stable and affordable homes to those in need.”

New copy:

“Your help is needed now more than ever to provide safe, stable and affordable homes to those in need.”

Even better copy:

“Your help is needed now to provide a safe, stable and affordable home to a family in need.”

Every single one of those sentences is accurate and truthful. But the “new” and “even better” copy would help those organizations raise more money.


In our experience, one of the qualities of successful appeals is that the change that the donor’s gift will make is obvious to the reader.

Your appeal letter is likely to raise more if it tells your donor that their gift will cause meaningful change, as opposed to funding the status quo.

So watch out for “continue to” in your fundraising this year – make sure you’re not accidentally downplaying the big change your organization makes in the world.

Because donors give gifts to make a change. To right a wrong. To stop an evil. To help a person. To advance a cause.

Ask donors to make a meaningful change with their gift and you’ll receive both more gifts and more meaningful gifts.

Want to See Expertise in Action – and Steal Ideas for Your Organization?

Direct mail fundraising.

The following is a guest post from John Lepp of Agents of Good in Toronto.

It’s a tour (de force) through a successful direct mail package. John calls out 26 different ideas that you can use for your organization’s direct mail appeals. (Many can be used for e-appeals as well.)

John and his business partner, Jen Love, know their stuff. This is well worth your time!

The summer (in North America anyhow) tends to be a quiet time for sending out mail appeals.

They can be a little hit or miss.

Late this spring, we were working on a June mailing for STEGH Foundation (who I wrote about this past January and their YE appeal).

And like the mailings before it, we applaud Amanda Campbell and the whole team at STEGH for going the extra mile for their appeals and their donors.

I worked with Rachel Zant on this appeal and we wanted to share the 26 ideas that you can steal right now to make your next appeal more successful.

I’ll go first!

Outer Envelope

  1. Was a 9”x6” envelope. Testing tells us that almost anything other than a white #10 will do better in the mail.
  2. It was closed face. It didn’t have a window. Makes it look more like personal mail than using a window.
  3. We asked the letter signer, Jacqueline Bloom, to hand write her name and return address for us and we scanned that in and put it on the outer. No logo, no focus on this PMS colour or this specific font. This makes the outer look more personal from Jacqueline to the donor. Which is the point. Obviously.
  4. We used a personalized mail indicia. Testing has shown us that a commemorative stamp > first class generic stamp > visual indicia > standard indicia > meter postage…
  5. We used an image of lilacs in the indicia. Anyone in southern Ontario would know what that is and instantly be able to smell them since they are everywhere and gorgeous at this time of year. All of these things add up to a highly engaging and ‘openable’ envelope.

All of these things add up to a highly engaging and ‘openable’ envelope.

Next is the letter.

  1. It was designed to look like a personal letter from Jacqueline to me, the donor. Personalized, indented, lots of white space, hardly any ‘design’ and used a large serif font.
  2. Emphasis. Look at what is bolded and underlined. Some donors will only read or look at these things and make a decision to give or not. Make sure everything that you highlight will keep them engaged or move them to give.
  3. We cut off the last paragraph on page one. I know a lot of people who HATE this. Think it’s a mistake. It isn’t. It’s done so the donor will flip the letter over to keep reading.
  4. We also used a helpful “Please turn over…” written by Jacqueline as well.
  5. We included a photo of Jacqueline by her signature so donors could envision who was talking to them in the appeal. Humans give to humans and we are constantly trying to remind donors that they are talking to other humans.
  6. Jacqueline’s signature is very clear. You can see she took the time to write it out cleanly so it is readable. This very small thing does send visual clues to your donor – that you CEO or ED isn’t so important that they don’t have the time to ensure that their name is written cleanly.

The reply form.

  1. It is full size. 8.5” x 11”.
  2. It is personalized for me. The donor.
  3. The gift array was also personalized to my previous giving.
  4. We included an option for giving $198,000 – which is what we needed to raise. Doing this might seem a bit cheeky (and it is) but there have been instances where donors have checked that box or at the very least give a little more than what they tend to since they actually know what you are going to do with their gift.
  5. It has a ton of white space.
  6. If a donor wanted to give online or by phone, we made it easy to figure out how to do that or who to talk to!

Finally, we added a lift note.

  1. Lift notes of almost any type tend to do just that – lift response. Try adding something that rounds out the case or adds a little more detail to the appeal in some way.
  2. We decided to add a photo of the thing we were raising funds for.
  3. We had Jacqueline write out the message, which makes it feel far more personal than just type setting it.
  4. We also included a business reply envelope, postage paid, for the donor to send their gift back in.

Rachel’s perspective and 5 bonus tips:

This letter started off as a bit of a struggle for me, I have to admit. I’d already written a great letter for this appeal – asking donors to fund a new ventilator. It was a slam-dunk, highly emotional, compelling letter about the most basic of all human needs: the need to breathe.

But then we found out the ventilator had already been funded. Back to square one.

We learned the hospital urgently needed to fund a new C-Arm. It didn’t sound all that exciting at first – not after a letter about a new ventilator during COVID. However, our amazing contact, Amanda, hooked me up to an interview with a wonderful hospital staff person who was able to tell me in great detail just how vital this piece of equipment actually was.

The ever-talented John Lepp suggested I imagine the sounds this machine might make (or not be making). And from there, it was pretty easy to start writing.

Here are my top five tips and takeaways:

  1. Start with YOU! You’ll notice I started the first sentence off with a “you”. Sure, the lead would still have been compelling without it – but the “you” draws the reader in to become a part of the scene. The next few sentences set that scene up in vivid detail.
  2. Short and sweet. I purposely started off with short sentences that are easy to read and scan. You want your donor to keep on reading until they get to the ask! You’ll also notice the lift note copy is very short too – just a handwritten note on the back of a photo.
  3. Ask for one thing. The ask is very direct, urgent and for one thing only! It clearly explains the machine and the need, and that’s it.
  4. Tangibility. I did the math and divided the cost of the machine by the number of donors receiving this appeal and it worked out to a nice ‘affordable’ amount for your average person, so that became our first ask amount. I’ve used this approach in other letters and it’s worked out well.
  5. Be consistent. The “Yes-line” or CTA on the reply form reiterates the ask in the letter. It’s not the same generic line used in every single reply form sent out. All the pieces in this package are related to the same subject.

We decided to share this appeal since on the surface, it’s one of those not too sexy, a bit boring and standard appeals you all should be doing but don’t take the time to since you are in a rush to get to whatever is next in your schedule or focusing on the shiny other thing someone in the office is waving around.

This appeal only dropped a few weeks ago but is performing very well and strangely, is reactivating some long lapsed donors at a surprising rate. (Donors who haven’t given in 6 to 7 years are responding at 4.2%!!!!)

If you want to talk about this appeal more or how we can make your appeals stronger this fall, please reach out anytime to chat!

John has a book coming out soon (which I will absolutely be reading). Sign up for their newsletter on their website if you’d like to hear when it releases!

Two Letters in One

Write a letter.

The previous post introduced readers to a big idea:

Successful direct mail appeals tend to be written to communicate the main message in a) just the areas a donor is likely to see as they glance at your letter, and b) in the letter as a whole.

Why? Because a large percentage of your donors will just glance at your letter and make a decision for whether to give – or not. And you want your letter to be effective for both “Glancers” and for people who read the whole thing.

So how do you write a letter that works for Glancers and Readers?

It looks something like this:

  • The top-center or top-right corner of the letter contains a short blurb about the Need or about what the donor’s gift will do to help.
  • The first three-ish paragraphs tend to summarize the whole letter. They share why the donor’s gift is needed, what the donor’s gift will accomplish, and ask the reader to send in a gift today.
  • The middle section of the letter tends to go more in-depth. It shares more details about why the letter is being written, perhaps shares a story that illustrates the need for the donor to take action, and shares a bit more about what the organization does in situations like this.
  • The last couple of paragraphs tend to repeat what was said in the first three paraphs.

The Result

This results in a letter that “makes the whole case” in just the first few paragraphs. This ensures that almost anyone who picks up the letter will know what it’s about – which results in more gifts. Think of it as making half of your donors understand more about what their gifts help do – who wouldn’t want to make that improvement?!?

This results in a letter that can sound repetitive to internal audiences because it repeats the main ideas in a couple places. But the vast majority of donors (the audience for the letter!) don’t experience the letter this way. To donors, it sounds like a focused letter about something they care about.

This results in a letter that doesn’t “sound like us” – because if you’re going to summarize the whole case in three short paragraphs you don’t have time to talk the way the experts in your organization normally talk. But remember, if your letter doesn’t “sound like you” I think you should experience “not sounding like you” as a positive, not a negative.

Your Next Letter

The next time you write and design a letter, first go look at the heat map. Remind yourself (and anyone involved with approving the letter) that you’re writing two letters in one.

If you can make your letter work for both Glancers and Readers, you’ve done a great service to your organization and beneficiaries.

How? Because you’ve lowered the barrier to giving a gift. Instead of requiring a person to read the whole letter to know what you’re writing about, you’ve made it possible for Glancers to know – in just a heartbeat or two – why you’re writing them today and what they can do about it.

Do that and a surprising number of Glancers will send you a gift.

And your regular Readers will still send you their gifts.

You will raise more money and do more good.

You will have sent 2 letters in 1.

Lessons from a “Heat Map”

Heat map.

The graphic above is what’s called a “heat map.” It tracks where reader’s eyes looked as they read this piece of direct mail fundraising. It also tracks the order in which the reader looked at each area.

There’s a LOT this can teach an organization about how to succeed in fundraising through the mail and email…

The “Heat Map” Lessons

Not all heat maps look exactly the same. But they generally look like this one, and they all teach the same lessons:

  • Most donors don’t read the whole thing
  • Most donors don’t read your letters in order – they “skip around”
  • Large type, and type in the upper right corner, will get more attention
  • They tend to focus on the beginning and the end
  • They are more likely to read words on the left side of the page than on the right side of the page

Many people at nonprofits find this news distressing.

I find it powerful.

Because once you know how direct mail works, you can use it to raise more money for your cause than you’re currently raising.

The Big Takeaway

So what do you do with this information?

Write your next appeal with the knowledge that you’re writing two letters in one:

  • One complete fundraising appeal needs to fit in the green areas (more or less). Because most people will scan your letter and decide whether to give a gift – or not – only by looking at the green areas. Your ‘letter in the green areas’ needs to contain everything a donor needs to know to decide whether to give you a gift today.
  • And the entire letter, from start to finish, needs to make sense for the minority of people who will read the whole letter and decide whether to give a gift or not.

The big idea here is that even though you only write one letter, it’s written and designed to work for BOTH groups of your donors.

The most effective direct mail appeals are written and designed to get the main message across in both the green areas and in the rest of the letter.

To do this well requires a particular style of writing. It’s a style that can be learned.

The tricky part – in my opinion – is to get people who don’t prefer that style of writing to see the reason for it and the benefits of it.

What To Do Now

So here’s the question: are your organization’s letters written and designed to get the main message across to both groups?

If your organization is writing and designing only for donors who read the whole thing, you can be raising a LOT more money.

If that’s you, here are the steps I’d follow. Make sure that the “powers that be” at your organization know about:

  1. Heat maps and the lessons they teach
  2. How you have two groups of readers
  3. How it’s more inclusive to write letters that work for both groups
  4. And how writing for both groups will raise you more money because you’re multiplying how many people receive your message.

In the next post, I’ll talk about how to write an appeal that works for both groups.

If this were a normal post, I’d go ahead right now and share how to write this type of appeal. But I find that it’s not the “tactic” of writing for both groups that holds organizations back from doing it.

What holds them back is either the belief that it doesn’t apply to their organization, or that they don’t like that style of fundraising letter (or email).

So let’s just sit for a couple of days with the idea that there’s a style of fundraising appeal that’s written only for people who will read the whole thing. And if that’s the style your organization is using, in my experience your message is not reaching a very large percentage of your donors, and you’re not raising as much money (and doing as much good) as you could be.

Context is Everything


Context is everything in fundraising. 

A conversation with a long-time major donor whose child was impacted by your organization’s work is different than a conversation with a potential major donor you’re meeting for the first time.

We all intuitively get this.  And we modify our writing / behavior / messaging accordingly.

But when creating mass donor fundraising, nonprofits raise a lot less money because they forget this lesson in all sorts of little ways.

Take a look at these two examples.

  • Some organizations call the people they help “our clients.”  That’s defining the helped people based on the organization’s relationship with them. 
  • Saying “Will you support our work?” make sense (and feels powerful) from an organization’s point of view.  But it’s defining the work based on the organization’s relationship to it.

The first rule of persuasion is, “You cannot take a person where you want them to go until you first meet them where they are.”

So you want to start with the donor’s context – you want to meet the donor where the donor is.

So instead of saying, “our clients,” you might say, “people suffering from PTSD who need counselling.”  By naming what it is you’re helping with – rather than using the internal shorthand of “our clients” – you’ve “met the donor where they are.”

Instead of asking donors to support your work, ask them to “help a person suffering from PTSD.”  Asking donors to “right wrongs” or “fight injustices” will always be more effective than asking them to support your organization.

Here’s another example from a piece of fundraising I saw the other day.  The organization said this:

  • Please help stop human trafficking, your gift will support our organization’s work.

But don’t you think they would raise more money (and stop more trafficking) if they said this?

  • Please help stop human trafficking, your gift will help keep a young girl safe.

To a donor, it’s more important to “keep a girl safe” than it is to “support an organization.”

The Key Realization

It’s powerful to realize that most donors care more about the issue you’re working on than they care about your organization.

Why?  It helps you remember that even though your donors serve your organization through their giving, you’re also serving donors by giving them an opportunity to do something about a cause they care about.

And when you remember that you’re serving donors, you’re more likely to go to their context – to “meet them where they’re at.”

When you use a context that makes more sense to donors, you serve donors more effectively and, as a result, you raise more money.