The magic document that improves your fundraising and helps you love your colleagues

Here’s a secret that will help you raise more money, save a lot of time, and enjoy your colleagues a lot more.

It’s an odd little document that only a handful of people will ever see called a brief.

It’s easy to launch into any fundraising project with some general goals and beliefs about how a project should turn out, and just start writing or throw it over the wall to a copywriter.

Sometimes you get lucky and that works. More often, it turns into a decent into a labyrinth of confusion, conflict, and wasted time.

In fact, when you start without a clear and agreed-upon end in mind and in writing, you often end up further away from completion than you were when you started. Not to mention an ever-increasing urge to throw your colleagues under the nearest bus.

That’s why a brief can be an almost magical document that improves the quality of your work, decreases the time it takes to do it, and promotes peace and love in your workplace.

An hour spent at the beginning of project defining and planning and putting it in writing in a brief will save many hours later on. And not just hours, but the most frustrating and soul-deadening type of hours.

  • Purpose, audience, goals, context: Many projects go sideways because there were different assumptions and they were never put in writing. This is the place to make it clear what you’re doing and why, as well as any knowledge from the past that might inform you.
  • Offer: The specific action we want donors to make possible. This is the single most important piece of information on the brief. Agreeing on the what the donors’ gifts will do and how you’ll talk about it is a must. This should include your plan for asking each donor for the right amount. Write it exactly the way it will appear on the reply device and/or donation page.
  • Copy points: Things we want to make sure are covered in the message.
  • Story: No need to write it — just make it clear what the story (or stories) you plan to tell and what is its source.

That’s the basics. You can add more as needed, including things like:

  • Schedule and deadlines.
  • Budget and proforma results. As much detail as is useful.
  • Tests. Describe test hypotheses and intended learnings.
  • Specs. Top line description or detailed specs.

Sometimes briefs grow over time until they are massive, unwieldy documents that nobody has time to read. One way to get away from that is to split your brief into two documents: a creative brief (about content) and a production brief (about production issues).

If it seems daunting, start simple.

Without a brief, your fundraising effort looks like this:

  • Ready.
  • Fire.
  • Aim.

A brief helps you put that in the right order.


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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.

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