4 fundraising lessons from the whistle-blower

I promise I’m not going into the politics of it, but there’s a great lesson for fundraisers in a recent New York Times article: The Whistle-Blower Knows How to Write.

That’s right: A writing instructor looked at the whistle-blower’s 9-page document with an eye to the quality of the writing. (You can read the actual complaint here.)

Here are the whistle-blower’s strengths:

  1. The whistle-blower gets right to the point. From the first sentence, you know what they’re saying. Your fundraising should be like that: Stay away from verbal warm-ups. Get to the point!
  2. The whistle-blower uses subheadings to make sure we can connect the dots. Subheads are smart. Anything that helps skimmers get the point more quickly, including underlines, larger copy, handwritten notes in the margins … these things help your readers get it — and that means they are more likely to donate.
  3. The whistle-blower gets an A for his topic sentences. The whistle-blower writes in a classic formal style, with long paragraphs that are complete thoughts introduced by tight and clear first sentences. We don’t do that in fundraising — not quite! But periodic strong topic sentences that orient readers to what we’re saying: YES. They just happen every few of our super-short paragraphs, not just once at the beginning of each paragraph.
  4. The whistle-blower uses active verbs. While moderate use of passive voice is fine, it’s best to keep every sentence strong and built around good verbs. That’s good writing that will keep readers engaged.


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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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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.

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