5 Most Common Mistakes in Fundraising Copy

October 13, 2011

Although my complete list of common mistakes in fundraising copy is much longer, these five mistakes top the list.

All types and sizes of organizations are guilty: Large and small, charities and associations alike. Yes, far too many nonprofits consistently write copy filled with these mistakes.

Top 5 mistakes in fundraising copy result in a "failing grade"

Countdown of the top 5 mistakes in fundraising copy:

5) Assume a level of knowledge and familiarity that just isn’t there.

Write your copy for absent-minded acquaintances who forget most of what you tell them. Even if a donor has been with you for 3 – 5 years, they’ll know a tiny fraction of what you do.

Your mission is not their life. They’re just compassionate enough to help someone else have a better life and your nonprofit is the instrument they choose to use.

Find more clarity on how to correct this mistake in another blog post, “We really don’t know you.”

4) Every letter or email tries to cover everything you do.

Even in acquisition you don’t HAVE to discuss every single program your charity provides. You don’t HAVE to write about ALL the ways you help people. And associations don’t HAVE to go into detail about every single member benefit.

Choose one program and gin up an appeal that’s emotion-charged and hard-hitting (I don’t mean “angry”; I mean compelling and not watered down with political correctness). And cover the story in depth so readers can make an emotional connection.

More on this common fundraising copy mistake, “Follow the Straight and Narrow

3) Fail to show how a donor makes a difference.

Donors absolutely and positively WANT TO KNOW how they can make a difference by donating to your cause. And you must do this in terms they understand. I’ve got several blog posts on this topic including, “Acme Charity does great work. Give us money.”

For associations – show how the member’s life will be different after joining.

Here are more guidelines on how to avoid this mistake, “Raise money with appeal letters that are appealing

2) Fundraising appeal written by committee.

With every additional person who reads and edits your appeal, the copy gets weaker.

This means you are deliberately slashing response and reducing the amount of revenue you raise. I don’t understand why nonprofits do business that way. Isn’t that self-destructive?

A popular post on this topic is, “Quickest Way to KILL Response

In addition, copy written by committee fails to be authentic. Instead you need to “Tell It Like It Is

1) Copy is NOT donor-centric. It doesn’t put the reader in the hero’s spotlight.

Your charity didn’t repeatedly fly Sam from his farm in rural Idaho to a hospital 253 miles away for cancer treatment. Your university didn’t give a $2,000 scholarship so Terry could finish her engineering degree.

Your donors did all that and more. Write about what your donors have done and can accomplish in the future by giving. It’s NOT about you or your nonprofit.

And yes, this is another topic I frequently write about. For example:

Copy that your donors and members like

How to Write Donor-Centric Tweets … examples

What are the top one, two or three mistakes you see in fundraising copy? Do you agree with my top five or do you have another to add? Please share in the comment box below.

Want even more info on this subject? Related posts are:

Sameness is the death of nonprofit copy

Don’t encourage donors to choose another nonprofit to support instead of yours

Giving once. Giving twice. SOLD! To the charity with the right message


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