Power to the pronoun for stronger fundraising copy

by guest blogger George Crankovic of TrueSense Marketing

Most of us think of pronouns like “I” and “we” as mere function words in copy. We use them to start a sentence or move it along to get to the good, meaty words that are marbled with meaning.

But there’s research (PDF) shows that simple pronouns say a lot more than we think.

For example, in both speaking and writing, higher-status people don’t use the personal pronoun “I” very much. This contradicts the stereotype of the captain of the boardroom constantly exclaiming “I, I, I.” In fact, higher-status people use “I” far less. Lower-status people use “I” far more.

This is the case, as the researchers theorized, because the lower-status people are focusing more on themselves. They say “I” more often because they’re more self-conscious and aware of how they come across to the higher-status person.

On the other hand, leaders and other higher-status people tend to use the plural pronoun “we” much more than their followers. That’s because leaders are more “other-focused.” Their attention isn’t on themselves but on the group, the goal, and the big picture.

So what does this mean for fundraising?

Based on this research, using “I” in copy can:


  • Put the donor in a position of higher status.
  • Display more thoughtfulness or self-awareness on the part of the writer.
  • Show vulnerability, as when reacting to an instance of human suffering, for example. “I slumped in my chair when I learned Miriam had TB.”

“We” can be used to show that the focus is outer-directed, to convey the need for teamwork, or to suggest that the writer is taking charge and demonstrating leadership — “We need to end poverty now!”

One caution here: In fundraising copy, readers might assume “we” is being used in the organizational sense — that the organization is the “we” that’s talking. It’s important to make it clear from context that the “we” refers to writer and donor together, marching toward a goal.

These are subtle points. But as anyone who’s ever sweated over the right verb struggled to make a distant problem important to donors knows, it’s the subtleties that can add up to big differences in response.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.