Three Rules For ‘We’


I read an appeal recently where the first sentence was:

“We’re facing a crisis.”

Think about that sentence with me for a moment. Who does the “we” refer to?

As far as I can tell, the possibilities for the “we” are:

  • The organization itself.
  • The writer and the reader.
  • Everyone on the planet.
  • Everyone who cares about the issue the organization works on.
  • Everyone in the city/region where the organization is based.

For now, let’s set aside how important first sentences are and how it’s not ideal to start an appeal with a sentence with multiple meanings.

Instead, let’s focus on that “we”…

The next time you read a piece of fundraising, I can almost guarantee you that you’ll see a “we” that could refer to at least a couple of groups. I make this error in my own first drafts all the time.

Over time I’ve developed three questions that I ask myself when I see the word “we” (and its close cousin, “us”). These questions are an easy way to make your fundraising writing to individual donors more clear and more impactful.

Can I make it abundantly clear who the “we” refers to?

This results in changes like this:

  • From “We care about the…” to “The staff and I care about the…”
  • From “We need to save the wetland…” to “Everyone who lives in this watershed needs to save the wetland…”

Fundraising that’s crazy easy to understand lowers the cognitive load on the reader. That keeps more people reading, and results in more money being raised. Clarity is good.

You get it. And speaking of “you”…

Can I directly include the donor?

This results in changes like this:

  • From “Together, we can…” to “Together, you and I can…”
  • From “We don’t want to cut back…” to “You and I don’t want to cut back…”

Directly including the donor with the word “you” gets them more emotionally involved, which increases the likelihood of them giving a gift.

And finally…

Can I remove the organization entirely?

Two examples for you:

  • From “We need your help more than ever…” to “Your help is needed more than ever…”
  • From “A gift today helps us make transformations like this possible.” to “A gift today makes transformations like this possible.”

Focusing the donor’s attention on their role, as opposed to the organization’s role, is a surefire way to keep individual donors more engaged in direct mail and email.

Any time you see the word “we” or “us,” ask yourself these three questions. You’ll make your writing more relevant to your readers, which is key to raising more from your readers.


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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *