4 Writing Tips For Great Year-End Fundraising

The Fall means different things to different people, but in the charity world, it means the start of ‘fundraising season’. Yes, those 3 months at the end of the year where more money is raised and given than any other. It’s also when communications ramp up and the battle for donors’ hearts, minds, and mailboxes increases. This means your writing needs to be at its sharpest.

As you head into this busy and important season, here are 4 tips which may be good reminders or new ideas you can put to use. In either case, I hope they are useful for you and your organization:

1. It’s About Them, Not About You

We all have those friends who love to talk about themselves. How great their weekend was. How special their cat/dog/child is (I just got a new puppy and am quite guilty of this one… see, I just did it again…). Conversations with them generally aren’t great. And if you’re thinking to yourself “I don’t know if I have any of those friends” well… then… you probably are that friend. Sorry.

But that’s who nonprofits can often be, or turn into when they write and fundraise. It quickly becomes all about them. Get Fully Funded calls this The 1 Big Mistake That Ruins A Nonprofit Fundraising Appeal: being self-centered. The repeated use of ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’ is a symptom of this. And it’s quite off-putting if you’re a donor reading it.

So you have to fight that and replace that self-centered language with donor-centered language like ‘you’ and ‘your’. A great tip to avoid this, is to highlight all the ‘you’ and ‘your’ language in a colour (green) and the ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’ language in another colour (red). You can quickly see how you’re doing with this and go back and change the red to green. And in the end, you should see a lot more green than red. Like, a lot more.

2. Use Active Language, Not Passive Language.

Similar to using ‘you’s’ instead of ‘we’s’, turn passive language into active language. Some common examples of this are using ‘help’, ‘because of you/people like you’ and ‘could’. Here’s an example of a common phrase you’ll see in emails, websites and direct mail letters (fictional food organization focused on children):

  • You helped us make an impact by feeding 100 children
  • Because of donors like you, we were able to feed 100 children
  • A donation of $50 could feed 100 children for a month

Instead, and removing any of the ‘we’ or ‘us’ language, those phrases should look more like:

  • You made an impact by feeding 100 children
  • Because of you, 100 children were fed
  • Your donation of $50 will feed 100 children for a month

Donors don’t want to be one of many, arms-length from the impact or being told their impact in vague ways. They want to know they are special, making an impact and they know it. Active language is much more inspiring, direct and clear – three things that donors want and respond well to.

3. Be SURE

This comes straight out of Jeff Brooks’ fantastic new book How to Turn Your Words Into Money: The Master Fundraiser’s Guide to Persuasive Writing (which I highly recommend) where SURE stands for:

  • Simple
  • Urgent
  • Repetitive
  • Emotional

Read the book or more of Jeff’s writing to get the full picture on each of those items but your writing is probably more complex than it needs to be and not as urgent. You probably aren’t repeating yourself enough and, perhaps, aren’t focusing enough on the emotional side of the fundraising equation.

Focusing on the emotional side and creating urgency are cornerstones of fundraising appeals but simplicity and repetition are often overlooked when it comes to writing. It’s not about dumbing down your writing or being boring, but simply understand that the reader doesn’t know what you know and most likely is just scanning your message. So the simplicity and repetition aren’t dumb or boring but useful, and needed if you are to connect with your donor. And that is sort of the point of fundraising communications…

I’ve been using a tool called Hemingway that will tell you the reading grade level of your writing and helps with focusing in simplicity. You should be aiming at Grade 7 – Grade 9 tops. This post is at the Grade 6 level in case you’re wondering.

4. Make Sure There Is Conflict Before A Resolution

Vanessa Chase from The Storytelling Nonprofit really hit this home for me. As important as impact, results and solutions are – and they are important – when it comes to persuading people to give, they need to first understand the problem. And this comes from some sort of conflict.

The conflict in a story is what is stopping the hero from achieving their goal, slaying the dragon or completing their quest. Conflict adds tension, in a good way, and is something we can all identify with. Your donors may not have experienced living life on the street and having nowhere to sleep, but they’ve faced some form of trial and tribulation in their lives and can identify with that.

And when we see conflict or a problem, and can identify with it, we want to help. We are wired to help. That’s where you can share the solution or how the donor can resolve the situation through their donation. But there has to be some conflict. Without conflict, urgency is tough to create and the emotional response (key pieces of keeping things SURE) are much more difficult.


As you enter this important time for storytelling, fundraising and communications be SURE, make it about them, use active language and create some conflict before jumping to solutions. Good luck!

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