Essential tips for effective development writing

writing for fundraisingThe Association of Fundraising Professionals Western New York Chapter recently held an interesting panel discussion called “Put Your Write Foot Forward: Essential Tips for Effective Development Writing.”


The panelists were Michael R. Barone, director of Public Relations for Fredonia State College; Cynthia G. Leavell, associate director of Development Communications for the University at Buffalo, and Jill A. Spira, director of Niagara County Community College Foundation, Inc.


Here are some of the tips they shared:


Tell a story: In addition to writing stories about those who receive your services, you might write a profile on a donor. The important thing is to tell why they gave their gift.


PS: Using a PS at the end of a fundraising appeal letter is very effective. People skim letters and may read the first paragraph and jump down to the bottom of the page.


Catch typos: Spell check doesn’t catch everything. Print out your text and read it out loud. Better yet, find someone else to read it, too. It’s better to have another pair of eyes look at it.


Branding: No matter who your audience is, make sure everything going out has the same look and feel.


Everybody wants to back a winner: It’s one thing to show your donors how important their gifts are, but don’t let them believe your institution’s finances are on shaky ground. Your donors want to know that you are successful.


Print vs. electronic: In general, older people like to touch and feel a newsletter or appeal letter. In general, younger people like electronic communications. But that’s not universal, and preferences change. It’s best to ask people how they’d like you to communicate with them. Remember, if you want to send an e-newsletter, you need to gather e-mail addresses.


Share the load: If you’re starting a new project, such as a Facebook page for alumni, realize that you’re probably going to need people from outside your office to help you.


Check your database: You may have many different volunteers helping you input information into your donor database. You may have mistakes or inconsistencies. Remember, what goes in is what comes out, so check your list before you do a mailing.


Online giving: Don’t expect everyone to mail you a check in response to a direct mail appeal. Make sure it’s easy for people to give online, too.


Thanks yous: A thank you letter is as important as an appeal letter. Personalize it, and include a handwritten note when possible.


Jill Spira recommends these helpful writing sites:

The Purdue University Online Writing Lab

 More than 130 handouts (Web pages)including handouts on conducting research, constructing paragraphs, eliminating wordiness and learning about grammar, as well as anything and everything about writing for specific purposes.


A Synopsis of William Strunk Jr.’s The Elements of Style




What tips can you share with our readers?


  1. 1

    Well said

    Comment by Jason Whitmen — November 6, 2009 @ 3:00 PM

  2. 2

    As to being correct: get a good stylebook such as the AP Stylebook, a good grammar book too…I really like Woe Is I by O’Conner, and always wait a few hours and then review your text again. It’s amazing what you catch after it sits just a little while. Older donors can be very critical of mistakes, so don’t take a chance.

    Comment by Joanne Fritz — November 7, 2009 @ 10:23 PM

  3. 3

    Thanks so much for your comment. I’m not familiar with Woe Is I; I’ll have to look into it. I absolutely agree with letting your copy rest. Great suggestions!
    Connie Oswald Stofko
    Fundraising Assets

    Comment by Connie — November 8, 2009 @ 4:56 PM

  4. 4

    Great reminders. I have found another good way to catch spelling errors is to read the message backward.

    Keith C Kerber
    Thunderbird School of Global Management

    Comment by Keith C. Kerber — November 17, 2009 @ 11:04 AM

  5. 5

    It’s extremely important not to gloss over the “telling a story” element. Not only are beneficiaries’ and donors’ stories important, but the story of your organization itself, the new project you’re trying to fund, or the old one whose reach you’re trying to expand.

    Often lost in the need for “measurable metrics” and goals going forward is the simple idea that those reading your request aren’t as familiar with your organization as you are. You must tell the story of the evolution of your organization’s work compellingly to make prospective donors comfortable with your organization and its work. Importantly, this goes beyond putting forth numbers of people who’ve benefited from your services.

    Comment by Christopher Schultz — November 17, 2009 @ 1:13 PM

  6. 6

    I had never heard of that one before! Thanks so much, Keith!
    Connie Oswald Stofko

    Comment by Connie — November 17, 2009 @ 1:33 PM

  7. 7

    I absolutely agree that staff within an organization often don’t realize that people in their audience aren’t as familiar with their organization as they are. Staff often think their audience must be tired of hearing the same messages over and over, when in fact the messages are barely registering. Thanks, Christopher!
    Connie Oswald Stofko

    Comment by Connie — November 17, 2009 @ 1:39 PM

  8. 8

    thanks for the PS info. In my many years of doing this, I was not aware that it was useful.

    Comment by Amalia — November 22, 2009 @ 12:04 PM

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