October 22, 2018
 
How Anyone Can Be an Effective Fundraising Writer

Doing good work is not enough for nonprofits looking to raise money; they must be able to persuade, and whether they are veteran or novice fundraisers How to Turn Your Words Into Money will serve as a valuable guide they’ll likely refer to often.

Jeff Brooks, a seasoned nonprofit fundraiser and author of The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, details the theory and practice of writing effective fundraising materials by explaining the psychology of fundraising, showing what works and what doesn’t, and identifying traps and how to avoid them.

Above all, fundraising writing differs from other types of writing – and often breaks the rules of what traditionally is called good writing by using, for example, sentence fragments and the passive voice. The goal, as Brooks suggests, is “to get people to look past their self-interest, to tap into their inner angels and join you in changing the world,” what he admits is a tall order.

He delves into his task by telling what fundraising is not.
  • It’s not about educating donors. Instructing people often involves lecturing and people for the most part don’t want to be lectured to. They want to hear inspiring stories that have emotional appeal.

  • It’s not about bragging. Instead of talking about things because they’re important to you, which is bragging, you need to show how your mission accomplishes your donor’s mission.

  • It’s not about journalism. While journalism is based on the five Ws—who, what, where, when, and why—fundraising writing is built on one Y: you. Good journalism doesn’t take sides; effective fundraising writing does.
Brooks urges the reader to be SURE about their writing, an acronym that stands for Simple, Urgent, Repetitive, and Emotional. For example:
You could write:
One in six Americans struggles with hunger, which unfortunately may be true but is unlikely to generate a response from the reader.

Or you could write:
Molly is so hungry she can barely focus her eyes. Her head constantly throbs, and her stomach feels like an empty, painful hole. She’s exhausted all the time. And it gets worse every day, which paints a picture of hunger that demands a response and moves the reader to give.

Effective fundraising writing involves good story telling, and Brooks teaches how to present a problem, comment on it, and provide the right ending.

“There’s a decision every writer makes before starting a story,” he asserts. “If you make the right choice, your story can be a cupid’s arrow aimed at the donor’s heart. Make the wrong choice and you’ll spoil any magic, leaving the story as exciting as a sponge soaked with cold coffee.”

The job of the fundraising writer can be difficult, but, according to Brooks, rewarding by transforming complex, confusing, even discouraging realities into living opportunities for donors.

Perhaps Brooks’ most uplifting message is that anyone can write. It just takes practice, willingness to give up The Elements of Style approach to writing that everyone was taught in high school, and belief in and understanding the donor’s interest and motivation – along with the fortitude to rewrite as often as needed until the job is done.

How to Turn Your Words Into Money is available from Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy
November 2015


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