Storytelling is one of the most important tools in an individual giving fundraiser’s toolkit. However, for as much time as fundraisers spend thinking about what stories to tell their donor community, they often don’t pay the same attention to how they’re telling them. 

Yet focusing on the mechanics of writing—narrative structure, tone, style, formatting, etc.—is enormously important because even the best, most inspiring stories can get lost in a poorly written piece.

Its own, unique genre

The most basic—and yet significant—thing to remember about writing for fundraising is that it is a unique genre. While writing for fundraising often pulls on best practices from academic writing, creative writing, and journalism, it stands squarely apart from these disciplines and their various purposes. For fundraising copywriting, the chief intent is not to be informative, but rather to be interesting to the point of action. 

Fundraising copywriting aspires to strike a nerve in the reader, and with that personal interest ignited, the reader is compelled to act on their feelings by making a charitable contribution. Few other genres strive to transcend the page and create real-world action the way fundraising copywriting does.

To achieve interest and thus action, copywriting for development needs to establish common cause with the individual donor. As research from the Institute of Sustainable Philanthropy in the field of philanthropic psychology suggests, a highly effective method of doing so is by emphasizing how the organization’s work advances specific values, beliefs, or behaviors that donors see as foundational to their own sense of self. 

The key question motivating excellent fundraising copywriting is no longer, “How can we get donors to give?” Rather, it is, “What do we want to help people demonstrate about themselves by giving to our organization?”

Key signatures of masterful copywriting

There is no one perfect way to craft a piece of individual giving collateral. Indeed, the same story could be successful in multiple versions of a solicitation letter by various authors. However, there are certain key signatures that distinguish mediocre from masterful copywriting. 

  • First name and “you” references. Great fundraising copywriting intentionally and repeatedly invites the donor to find themselves in the piece by explicitly naming them.
  • Repetition of the ask. Repetition begets familiarity, and familiarity begets remembrance. By repeating the ask multiple times during a solicitation, the reader is more likely to remember and respond to the call to action.
  • Active voice. The active voice is more agentive, powerful, and purposeful than the passive voice. By writing in the active voice, masterful copywriters create an easy narrative path for the donor to follow.
  • Warm, personal tone. Effective fundraising copywriting is neither officious nor formal. It is warm, inviting, and personal. People give to people, as the saying goes, and real people are conversational, not academic, when they communicate.
  • Short and lots of white space. Great copywriting invites the reader to skim it, and then go back and read it. Short, simple sentences in short paragraphs surrounded by lots of white space encourages the reader to engage with the text, rather than scaring them off with complexity and density.

These are just some of the strategies, decisions, and edits which savvy fundraising copywriters are using. You can learn more ways to elevate your own writing by joining me on Tuesday, December 7 for Candid’s virtual workshop, “Grow Your Individual Giving through Masterful Copywriting.” Register for the virtual workshop.

About the Author(s)

Holly Richardson Director, Thread Strategies

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