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Writing for fundraisers: Quality writing is the "how" in donor centric communications - Part one

publication date: Mar 2, 2016
author/source: Lisa MacDonald
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Lisa MacDonaldYou may be familiar with the term "persuasive" writing. It is a style or approach of writing common to advertising and its end purpose is to convince the reader to purchase certain consumer products.  There has been some temptation to align persuasive copywriting with the type of writing done for fundraising purposes. While there are certain traits of persuasive copywriting that you may desire in your fundraising copy, there are other tangible aspects of the writing skillset that can make you even more effective in writing donor centric copy.  

The what and the why

 Perhaps I've jumped ahead a step or two.  Let's start with why writing should even matter to you.  A recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review[1] stated that "the rampant, widespread use of boring, convoluted language is costing the social sector a lot of money."  The author goes on to say that the language being used "confuses donors, volunteers, staff and board. And when people are confused, they don't fully engage."

Lack of engagement is a problem.  If our basic use of language is poor than how can we hope to be storytellers for our organizations?  How can we let donors know about the incredible impact they are having on the causes that they care so deeply about? And what success or progress can we be making towards truly being a donor centric organization - particularly in regards to our outbound communication messaging?

In writing for fundraising we aspire to compelling, emotional storytelling (the WHAT). We do this so that all communications are donor focused (the WHY).  Quality writing is the skillset that allows us to convey our ideas in a lasting way (the HOW). The WHAT is another conversation, but for now I would argue that there are certain commonalities to all types of writing that make up your everyday workday: including donor emails and letters, the development of marketing materials and/or targeted fundraising appeals.

Back to being persuasive

Here are a few things that "persuasive" copy should have in common with writing for fundraising purposes:

  • Persuasive copy gets read and in so doing persuades the reader to perform an action (leave a bequest in their Will) or adopt a certain view point (recognize that they are the "hero" of the story, affecting a philanthropic change in the world around them).
  • Persuasive copy is specific. The more specific you are the more credible your argument (storytelling) becomes.
  • Utilizes the word "you" - the most powerful word in the English language. (It's about the donor not your organization!)

Persuasive writing, as with so many aspects of professional fundraising, is both art and science. A good writer must pay attention to elements of tone, structure, audience and grammar to convey their message successfully. They should also recognize that there are other tools that are part of the writing skillset that contributes to successful writing.

Developing your writing skillset includes the following activities:

1. Planning the writing project;

2. Organizing your ideas;

3. Crafting your sentences for maximum clarity and appeal;

4. Proofing, and most importantly

5. Thinking and analysis.

In Part 2 of Writing for Fundraisers, we'll discuss the last - but most important item on the list - thinking and analysis.

As the Managing Editor for The Hilborn Group, Lisa MacDonald helps nonprofit sector leaders stay connected with current trends and best practices across the country.  Contact her at  or connect on Twitter, @lisalmacdonald.  

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