The Two Reasons Effective Fundraising Writing is Repetitive

Short post today.

A little brevity seemed in order after posting mini-manifestos on how to save time and raise more by “repeating” and a list of what to repeat and even on follow-up mailings.

So. There are two reasons effective fundraising writing is so repetitive:

#1 – The more people read and hear something, the more likely they are to think it’s true and important.

So when you repeat words/phrases/ideas like “your help is needed today” and “your gift made a big difference” in your fundraising, your donor is more likely to believe them. And then she’s more likely to take action.

Here’s the science:

Repeated statements are perceived as more valid than novel ones, termed the illusion of truth effect, presumably because repetition imbues the statement with familiarity. In 3 studies … participants with low or high motivation to process information were presented persuasive arguments seen once or twice. In all 3 studies, repetition increased the persuasiveness of weak and strong arguments when little processing of message content occurred.

— From the Abstract to “The impact of repetition-induced familiarity on agreement with weak and strong arguments.” By Moons WG, Mackie DM, and Garcia-Marques T.

#2 — Most people don’t read the whole thing.

Most donors quickly scan your letter or email; they don’t read all of it.

So the savvy fundraising writers and creators make their fundraising more repetitive to increase the chance that your scanning donor sees it.

Take a look at this heatmap of a direct mail letter. The green shows the locations that the readers spent time on:

Heat map.
Now does it make sense that pro writers repeat the main message at the beginnings and ends of their letters and emails?

And does it make sense that the classic nonprofit letter – a letter that buries the Ask about 2/3 of the way through the letter – doesn’t work as well? Many of your donors never even see it!

Taking My Own Medicine

I’ve been writing about the power of “repeating” and being repetitive all month.

It’s beginning to feel repetitive…

But I’m taking my own medicine. I know that when something feels repetitive to me, that means it’s just starting to get through to my readers.

That’s the same advice I give to nonprofits every week: “I know it feels repetitive to you, and that means it’s getting through to your donors. Because it’s your donors’ reaction to your fundraising that matters most, not yours!”

Please do read our posts this month on “repeating.” Especially if you’re with a small- to medium-sized nonprofit. It’s not sexy, but the idea of repeating your best content, repeating your best tactics, and repeating your best messages is a powerful key to raising more money!


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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