The power of a well-written appeal, acknowledgment, or impact report, can not be underestimated. Connecting to your donors through meaningful communications is one of the most crucial roles a donor relations professional plays—and it can mean the difference between reThe power of a well-written donor appeal, acknowledgment, or impact report should not be underestimated. Stewarding your donors through meaningful communications is one of the most crucial roles donor relations professionals play—and it can mean the difference between retaining or losing a donor. But how do you master writing for donor relations?
Our experts have shared their top tips for creating engaging written appeals that will inspire your donors to action and keep them giving time and time again. Here are our top 13 tips for writing to build relationships with donors:
Do your research. Review your donor database. What can you find that will allow you to write something more personalized for each donor? Reach out to your gift officers and learn about each donor. The more you know about them—the number of years they have been giving, the time of year they like to give, the area or program they most often support—the better able you are to prepare a message that is meaningful and deeply personal.
Consider the context for which you’re writing. Are you writing a longer-form donor appreciation letter or email? Or are you drafting a quick social media direct message? This will help determine the length of your message—letters and emails allow for a much higher word count than a quick DM. The context will also help you determine your tone. While your organization’s overall tone might not change much from platform to platform, you might follow slightly different guidelines for each communication channel.
Have someone edit your work. You may move so fast some days that having someone you can trust to review your work can save you some embarrassing errors. However, make sure you only have a handful of people at most involved in the review process. Having too many people involved can slow down the process and lead to delays in connecting with donors.
Ask people with different lenses to be on your review team. Writing a donor relations letter isn’t just about making sure your writing is grammatically correct or beautifully written. You should reach out to team members from different departments to ensure your letter is factually correct. For example, you might run your letter by your fundraising director or volunteer manager to check your letter for accuracy and supplement it with additional information.
Remember that it’s not about you. Focus your communications on the people your organization helps—not your organization itself. Describe how the donor’s support has empowered your nonprofit to carry out your mission. This provides a stronger emotional connection to your cause.
Be specific about donors’ impact. Donors like to see that their contributions made a significant impact on your organization’s mission. In your donor relations letters, be specific about how your organization used donor gifts. For example, you might say something like “Your generous gifts helped us purchase 50 gardening kits for community gardeners, supporting the mission of creating a more sustainable, self-sufficient community!”
Surprise donors with something unexpected. A straightforward letter similar to the ones you’ve sent in the past may not be the most engaging tool for inspiring donors who have been supporting your mission for a while. Surprise donors with an unexpected element, such as a free sticker or car decal or a link to a personalized thank you video.
Be authentic in your tone and style. Read your writing out loud and ask yourself if you’re engaged while reading. Does it sound unique or could anyone have written it?
Emphasize clarity and brevity. Write a letter that can be easily read across multiple reading levels and keeps things clear and direct. You can use an online tool like the Flesch-Kincaid readability test to assess the reading level of your work.
Challenge yourself to convey gratitude in multiple ways—not just by saying “thank you.” This forces you to be more creative in how you express the impact your donors have made on your mission.
Check your letter for personalization. When trying to determine if an acknowledgment letter is personalized enough, go through the letter and cross out anything that is not specific to the donor, to their gift, or to your organization. What do you have left in the letter that isn’t crossed out? Most of the letter? A sentence or two? Nothing? This exercise helps visualize what a donor will see and feel when they read your correspondence—and thus, if you’re hitting the mark or not.
Read examples of other effective donor relations letters. The more you read, the better you write. Read past donor relations letters that were particularly effective. You can even research letters written by other organizations and pick out the elements that you think will work well for your nonprofit.
Give donors a way to follow up. Donors may want to follow up with questions about your current needs. Open the door for further donor engagement by providing additional ways to get in touch. This might mean including contact information for leaders within your organization or including a link or QR code to your website or online donation form.
Whether you’re writing thank you notes after an annual appeal campaign or surprising donors with an out-of-the-blue appreciation letter, these tips will help strengthen your writing for any context.
What are your best tips for crafting powerful donor communications? We'd love to hear them!
taining or losing a donor. But how do you master writing for donor relations?
Our team of experts are sharing their top tips for creating swoon-worthy writing that will inspire your donors to action and keep them giving time and time again. Here are our teams Top 13 Tips for Writing for Donor Relations:
Do your research. Check your database. What can you find in the contact reports that might provide you with the intel to write something more personalized for this donor? Reach out to your gift officers and ask a few questions about the donor. The more you know about them—their favorite person in your organization, the number of years they have been giving, the time of year they like to give, the area or program they most often support—the better able you are to prepare something meaningful and deeply personal.
Have someone proof your work. We are human and we make mistakes. We move so fast some days that having someone you can trust to stop and review your work can save you some embarrassing mistakes.
Create a streamlined approval process for anything you are writing. When you get too many people in the mix it will slow down the process. Make certain those who do review the document have a reason to do so.
Ask people with different lenses to be on your review team. It is not always about making certain it is grammatically correct or beautifully written. For example, my team likes to have me review things because I have institutional knowledge and often know the donors. So I can catch something the writer may have missed or just not known.
When it comes to writing in donor relations, the best thing you can do is remember it’s not about you. Center the story on the donor and the difference they make through their generosity. Donors give through our organizations, not to them, and our #1 responsibility in storytelling is to illustrate the impact they make.
One of the most effective ways to demonstrate donor impact is to utilize the voice of beneficiaries in what we write. Doing so humanizes the narrative and helps connect donors directly to the positive change they’ve created—making the piece much more meaningful to a donor than repackaged brand messaging.
When you're blocked, do anything but write—take a walk, phone a friend, take a shower, a swim, listen to music, do something distracting and inspiration will come! The more you focus on what you haven't written, the worse it becomes.
Be authentic in your tone and style. Overly formal writing is boring to read. Read it out loud, do you have a perspective or point of view? Does it sound unique? Or could anyone have written it? Take your ho hum and make it stellar with a few key phrases.
Value clarity and brevity. Think Hemingway not Faulkner and certainly not Dostoyevsky! Have simple elegant sentence structure that translates across levels of reading and keep it clear and direct. No muss, no fuss writing wins every time. Save the prose and the flowery verbiage for your next memoir.
When writing a thank you note or letter, I challenge myself and those on my team to convey gratitude and impact by NOT using the term “thank you” in the actual content. It’s the best tip I ever received early in my career and it has stuck with me. It forces you to be more creative in your prose and avoid stagnant phrases.
When I need to write, I create dedicated space by closing my email, turning off notifications, silencing my phone, and generally shutting out distractions. I personally like to put in headphones and play heavy, soulful music that allows me to focus and think more deeply. Music doesn’t work for everyone, some prefer silence, but experiment and find the right mood for you.
When trying to determine if an acknowledgment letter is personalized enough, I encourage my team members to do the following: go through the letter and cross out anything that is not specific to the donor, to the gift, or if removed from context, could be talking about any organization. What do you have left in the letter that isn’t crossed out? Most of the letter? A sentence or two? Nothing? This exercise helps us visualize what a donor will see and feel when they read our correspondence—and thus, if we are hitting the mark or not.
READ. The more you read, the better you write. I'm a voracious reader and find inspiration even in the beachiest summer book. Embrace a new genre, go with the classics or a new guilty pleasure, but read!!!
What are your best tips for writing for donor relations? We'd love to hear them!