Quick story.

A few years ago I wrote a letter for a large, national organization you know the name of.

The letter was a huge success – it doubled the number of gifts they projected, and the average gift was higher than expected, too.

The President of the organization was pleased with the letter’s performance… and thought it would have raised even more if it was more in his voice.  So he wrote the letter the following year. 

His letter brought in half the number of gifts. 

The president is a very smart person and a great public speaker.  But his communication style – his “voice” – was not effective in direct mail.

There’s no judgment here; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with his voice.  But no one voice is always the best voice for all contexts. 

Quick common example: an organization decides that as part of their voice they will always describe their beneficiaries with one particular phrase, and that phrase is highly academic.  That phrase is perfectly appropriate in a grant application to a foundation with subject-matter expertise.  However, in a fundraising email to individual donors who don’t immediately know what the phrase means, the phrase will usually cause the organization to raise less money.

A nonprofit’s “voice” needs to be flexible enough to be modified for whatever context it’s communicating in.  To be most effective, a speech to a state legislature should sound a little different than a direct mail letter to individual donors, which in turn should sound a little different than a grant application.

If your Executive’s voice, or your brand voice, isn’t flexible enough to be adapted to meet the requirements for success in whatever context you’re communicating in, slavishly following any voice is costing you more than it’s helping you.

If you use the appropriate voice for each context, instead of using the same voice in every context, you will raise 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.

One comment on “Voice

  1. Steve,
    Great article. You may recall that I used to work for a large retirement community. The new ED didn’t like the way my appeals sounded and required a rewrite.
    The rewritten appeal did poorly, compared to previous appeals written following your wisdom. I am now enjoying my “early” retirement and have the honor of helping a couple of non profits in our area with their appeals. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.
    God bless you and all you do!!!!

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