Improve Your Fundraising Copy

2 Ways to Improve Your Fundraising Copy

Practical tips to put donors front and center

As a writer who has worked with a LOT of nonprofits, I know how tricky fundraising writing can be. Sometimes, it can feel like a guessing game… wondering which words you should use or not use… not wanting to come on too hard or too soft… and being unsure of what your supporters even want to hear. If you’ve ever felt that too, this is for you!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read copy about a nonprofits’ work that is thoughtful and beautifully-written… but more or less ineffective in generating results. The reason is almost always the same: the copy is all about the organization, and nothing about the reader (i.e., the donor or potential donor). 

So today, I’m sharing two easy ways to improve your fundraising copy by writing for your donors… so it’s easier, more effective – and even a little more fun.

It’s all based on one simple truth that should be at the heart of all your donor communication:

People want to feel good about themselves.

Yes… they want to know how many people you helped last month.
Yes… they desire to join your donor club or Facebook group.
Yes… they care about your organization’s mission and vision.

But in all those things, they want to see themselves. They want to know the role they played and how they made the difference.

But how do you make your fundraising copy about them when writing about your organization? How do you make people feel good about themselves?

You do it in two ways:

1. Talk about them, not yourself.
i.e. Use more “you, your” and less “we, our.”

2. Appeal to their emotions.
i.e. Choose words that evoke a response.

Let’s explore these tips one at a time. And yes… there are examples. 😉

1. Talk about them, not yourself.

Your donors want to see themselves in your work. Whatever it is… feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless… they want to believe they did it – not helped you do it.

Fortunately, this often just means a few word tweaks. Try to leave out words like “us” and “our” when describing your organization’s successes, and substitute “you” or “your” when possible. Let me show you what I mean…

Thank you for helping us welcome hungry neighbors with a meal.

Hear how friends like you have helped us change lives.

In both of these examples, just removing the word “us” changes the meaning of each sentence. Do you see how it improves the copy? You’re still talking about the work your organization is doing, but instead of telling your donor how they are helping you do the work, you’re telling them how they are doing the work.

Let’s take it one step further. Donors also want to feel like they are more than their finances. They want to feel like it’s not just their gift making a difference, but that they are making a difference. Here are a few more examples…

Instead of:
The impact of your gift is doubled with the Matching Challenge.

Do this:
Your impact is doubled with the Matching Challenge.

Instead of:
Your gift will help twice as many families.

Do this:
Your kindness will help twice as many families.

Again, just a few different words change the meaning to be less about a person’s donation and more about the person themself. Some in the industry call words like these “magic” – and there’s some truth to that! By incorporating these tips to improve your fundraising copy, your donors will feel more recognized, appreciated and engaged.

2. Appeal to their emotions.

Every entry-level marketing class talks about brand personification. Commercial products do it all the time… Nike, Starbucks, Apple. They don’t just sell shoes, coffee and computers. They sell feelings, emotions – and those emotions trigger a response to buy. Here’s an exercise in defining brand personality if you’d like to learn more.

Fortunately, cause-based organizations don’t need to create a story. They already have one in the people they serve. The key is telling those stories in ways that trigger an emotional response. That is the power of emotive language: It can cause a desired reaction – such as making a donation.

Sidebar/box/callout – WARNING: Be selective in how you deploy emotive language to improve your fundraising copy! Overusing it can diminish its authenticity and, therefore, effectiveness.

Perhaps the best way to understand emotive language is to see it at work for yourself…

It’s sad to think about mothers and children being homeless. They are scared and don’t have enough food – but they have nowhere to go.

My heart breaks for children living on the streets. Hungry… scared… a park bench as a bed. They don’t understand why they can’t just go home.

You can give homeless neighbors a hot meal, shelter and classes that will teach life skills so they can support themselves.

There’s no greater gift for a homeless neighbor than a hot meal, a safe place to stay and hope for their future. You have the power to give that… and more.

Do you see the difference? It may seem subtle, but it’s there. Emotive language is more engaging. It draws in the reader. And honestly, it’s more fun to read… and to write.

Take it from my 15+ years of experience in nonprofit writing… by putting your reader front and center – making them the hero and writing in ways that engage their emotions – you will improve your fundraising copy so it’s more effective in achieving the ultimate goal: generating resources to help more people.

And along the way… I guarantee… your writing will improve the lives of your donors as well.

Eager for more?

Check out this article by BDI’s Associate Creative Director, Allison Myrick, about why your fundraising copy should not sound like your CEO!

  • Catherine Ryan - Writer

    Catherine Ryan, Writer

    Catherine has been involved in nonprofit fundraising for over 15 years, both in the United States and overseas. She’s worked with organizations involved in child sponsorship, international development, broadcast ministry, publishing and higher education. As a writer and editor, she has experience in direct mail, email, websites, newsletters, public relations, annual reports and book publishing. She has a passion for social justice, particularly issues related to poverty.

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