Fundraisers write all wrong, study says

When we write an appeal letter or newsletter, we “put a face on the problem” by telling an emotional, compelling story of a person who was helped by the nonprofit’s services.  (See example.) We were shocked to hear that most fundraisers don’t do that. Frank C. Dickerson, Ph.D., was  shocked, too. He wrote  “The Way We Write is All Wrong: A Profile of and Prescription for Fixing The Broken Discourse of Fund Raising” during his doctoral studies at The Peter Drucker School of Management and The Claremont Graduate University. Dickerson did a computer-based analysis of the language in 2,412 online and direct mail fundraising documents from 880 elite charities. These should have been examples of the very best story telling, but he found that the prose focused on transferring information rather than creating interpersonal involvement.  When he surveyed fundraising executives, they said it was important to have emotional storytelling in their appeals, but the computer analysis found they didn’t actually do it. “The root of the disparity is that we all tend to take writing for granted,” Dickerson wrote. “We all can write. And we all think we can write well. Yet the evidence of linguistics analysis refutes this assumption.” He advises that fundraisers should not shy away from emotion, they should tell stories and they should not over-edit and formalize texts. You can read the whole paper—written purposely in friendly prose rather than in impenetrable academic style, at Make sure you’re one of the rare fundraisers who writes emotional, compelling appeal letters, or find a writer who can do it for you.


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