13 Tips for Writing for Donor Relations

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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 retaining 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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! 

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