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3 Habits of Highly Effective Fundraising Writers

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Fundraising writing is unlike most any other type of writing. It’s simple, urgent, conversational, emotional, repetitive, and old-fashioned.

And it can be tricky, for sure.

The good news is that you can learn the skills needed to create effective fundraising materials. (No special qualifications required, I promise.)

A few good habits can go a long way to get on the right path to writing the best donor communications possible. I have found that three habits have been instrumental in my fundraising writing journey. And I know they can help you too!

Here are three habits that will help you be a better, faster, more connected fundraising writer.

1.   Maintain a “Swipe” File

A swipe file is a digital or physical folder where you keep copies of quality fundraising pieces like appeals, newsletters, emails, landing pages, case statements, gratitude reports, Facebook ads, and more.

It’s an ideal resource when you’re grappling with writer’s block. When I get stuck, I often turn to my swipe file for motivation and inspiration. Studying examples of compelling copy helps get my brain thinking and my heart feeling.  

Your swipe file can also be a good resource for design ideas. Need to remember how to set up a reply form? Want to see where to place an envelope teaser? Looking for an example of the cover of a newsletter? Just take a peek inside your swipe file! 

You might be wondering how to find high-quality material to add to your swipe file. Here’s what I do. I add communications that fall into one of these three categories:

  • I learn from my fundraising friends what pieces of theirs are outperforming expectations. 
  • I keep my eyes peeled for articles that feature successful fundraising from around the world. (A must-explore resource is sofii.org.) 
  • I rely on my heart to know if a piece of fundraising moves me. If so, in the swipe file it goes!

Keep in mind, too, that the purpose of a swipe file is to inspire your fundraising. It is not to copy other organizations’ work. (Of course, don’t do that!)

If you don’t have a swipe file, start one today! There’s no one “right” way to maintain a swipe file. I save many special fundraising pieces in a big plastic tote bin and keep others in a digital folder such as Google Drive.

2.   Write Out Fantastic Fundraising Appeals

One of the best ways to hone your appeal-writing skills is to copy a great fundraising letter word for word — in longhand, if you can. The point is to sl-o-o-o-o-o-w yourself down as you recreate the letter.

It may sound odd, but copying an appeal by hand will help you internalize highly effective fundraising writing nuances. As you mechanically form each word, your brain is forced to focus. The tedious, laborious nature of this practice is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. 

And this is precisely what you want to know how to do: put together the pieces of the fundraising puzzle!

You’ll begin to get a feel for the methods of the copywriter. You’ll see the patterns beneath the surface.

You’ll start noticing structure, tone, tempo, repetition, word choice, persuasive techniques, and the principles of good design. 

You’ll see how storytelling is woven in and out and in again… how to present a compelling offer… how to contrast the pain points with the possibilities… how to move donors to FEEL more, CARE more, and GIVE more.

Take a look at the image below. Notice the original appeal letter from Ronald McDonald House Charities on the left, with my handwritten copy to the right:

hand write appealThe letter was tapping into my identity: as a caring mom, again and again. (About a dozen times in a 2-page letter!)When this letter arrived in my mailbox, I was delighted. And then, after I copied it out word for word, I noticed something interesting. Something unexpected. Something that took my breath away.

Writing by hand allowed me to FEEL the message in a unique way. I could now understand the tapestry of interlocking fundraising writing techniques far better than I could by simply reading it.

Give it a try. You’ll be surprised by the results! 

3.   Connect with Other Fundraisers

Sometimes our fundraising writing work is lonely, isn’t it? But, connecting with other people in our profession is good for our self-care AND for the work we produce.

Effective fundraisers seek out opportunities to get to know others like them. For example, you can get involved in a professional fundraising organization or a community nonprofit group. 

Attending fundraising conferences is another way to bond with others in the sector… all while learning how to improve your donor communications. I always think of in-person conferences as “come for the training, stay for the community.”

You can also join a vibrant online learning community like The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. You’ll sharpen your fundraising writing skills and meet like-minded peers who share your passion for making the world a better place!

Once you’ve established the above three winning habits, get in the habit of celebrating your progress, your hard work, and your success. You deserve it. 

Thankfully, amazingly, beautifully, all of these steps are wonderful ways to bring healing to the world with your big, caring heart. 

Julie Cooper has joined the Moceanic fundraising super-coaches — and she’s ready to work with you! Do you have any fundraising challenges you’d like to overcome with Julie’s help? Schedule a free 25-minute call with Julie or one of our other Fundraisingologists. They will give you great free advice, and help you identify which Coaching+ program might be right for you. Click here to book your call.

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • John W. Kollaer
    April 8, 2022 3:16 am

    I couldn’t find the referenced McDonald’s appeal. Thanks for providing such great tips to make our appeals more effective.


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