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Check your tone: 4 steps to writing more personal fundraising appeals

Nonprofit Fundraising

The tone of your fundraising appeals makes a big difference. And from what I see hit my inbox, most nonprofits are missing the mark.

Most email fundraising appeals I receive come off formal and distant.

This is a big problem and it’s having a negative impact on your fundraising efforts. Luckily, this is easy to fix, once you start paying attention to it.

The formal and distant tone of most fundraising communications is the result of one thing…

Not getting personal.

If you’ve seen my article on why people choose to donate, then you understand the importance of making your fundraising appeal personal.

Well, this article is going to ensure you’re writing more personal fundraising appeals in all of your future communications, email or otherwise.

Let’s get started…

Write to one

The reason why most written fundraising appeals come off as formal and distant is because they were written with the masses in mind.

When you sat down to write this appeal you thought about all of the people out there that were going to receive this email and by thinking about everyone, you started writing as if you were speaking to everyone at the same time.

Big mistake. Here’s why…

When people read your appeal, they’re by themselves, not standing in a crowd. When people read your appeal they’re listening to a one-on-one conversation.

It’s just them and your appeal.

But, if you write the appeal with the mindset that you are writing to a massive audience, the language you use will be different. Your writing style will be different.

And when that person is reading the appeal, instead of feeling like you are speaking directly to them, it will feel like they are just one of a million people you are reaching out to.

That’s not good. Nobody wants that. Everybody wants to be given personal attention.

And the first step to doing this right is fixing your mindset. Next time you are writing a fundraising appeal, don’t think of it as writing to an audience.

Write to one person. Preferably, someone you know.

Here’s a quick trick you can use to help with this.

Go to Facebook right now. Who is one of your friends showing up on your wall that might actually be interested in your cause?

Download their profile picture and then quickly close Facebook before you lose the next hour of your life.

Now,  with Facebook safely closed, open up the profile picture you just downloaded. Look at your friend. Think about the language you would use to write your friend and tell them about your cause and why you need there help.

Are you using a different tone and choosing different words to convey your meaning? It feels different, doesn’t it? 

Perfect. Now you’re headed in the right direction.

Always be contracting…

This one is easy, but few people actually pay attention to it.

The easiest way to make your tone less formal and more personal is by using contractions generously.

No wait, let me take some inspiration from Glengarry Glen Ross and be more straightforward here…

Always. Be. Contracting.

Of course, I’m referring to contracting your words.

Every “it is” becomes “it’s.”

Every “They are” becomes “they’re.”

And every “you have” becomes “you’ve.”

After you’ve written your appeal, go back through and contract absolutely everything you can.

This saps formality right out of your appeal, improves the flow, and makes it feel more personal.

Read aloud and re-write

When editing or reviewing any fundraising communication, always read it out-loud.

This will help you identify contractions you may have missed and it will also help you catch any clunky or awkward phrasing in your appeal.

The easier it is to read out-loud, the easier it will be for your audience to read and understand in their own head.

And by editing your appeal to what sounds right out-loud you are forcing yourself to use more personal language and phrasing, especially if you have that picture of your friend in front of you.

Avoid the inside joke (aka jargon)

Nothing makes you feel less important than not being in on an inside joke.

If someone was reading your appeal and you used an inside joke they didn’t understand it would immediately make them feel like an outsider, like they’re not a part of your circle.

I can’t think of a single reason why anyone would ever want to put an inside joke in a fundraising appeal.

Yet, nonprofits are often guilty of doing exactly this!

Okay, maybe they’re not telling jokes, but what they are doing is using jargon.

Jargon will have the exact same effect on your audience. If you start using words and terms they don’t understand then they’ll feel like they’re an outsider, like they’re not part of your circle.

Plus it will confuse them and make your appeal less clear.

Stop inadvertently alienating your community of support. Cut the jargon and everyone will be included and part of your circle.


The key to writing more personal fundraising appeals is to use informal language To achieve this…

  1. Write to one person, not an audience
  2. Use contractions every chance you get
  3. Read your appeal out-loud and rewrite what sounds clunky
  4. Avoid jargon and inside jokes

Keep doing good work,
Jeremy B. Koch signature and picture



4 comments… add one
  • Simple and powerful. I’ll follow this advice carefully.
    Thanks, Jeremy.

    • Jeremy

      Thanks for reading, Sandy. Best of luck!

  • Lori Krakora

    I’d love to see examples of your fundraising campaign letters.

    • Jeremy

      Thanks Lori. I’m working on it…stay tuned…

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