Fundraising secrets from Elmore Leonard

I recently came across the late Elmore Leonard‘s Ten Rules of Writing.

Leonard was a novelist, most famously of crime fiction. But his rules apply surprisingly well to fundraising writing.

Here they are, along with my annotations for fundraisers:

  1. Never open a book with weather. (Probably not a good idea for a fundraising appeal either. Unless it’s about a hurricane.)
  2. Avoid prologues. (Yes!)
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. (Yes!!)
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.” (Yes!!!)
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. (I think fundraisers are allowed a little more. Something like two or three per 500 words.)
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.” (Probably.)
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. (Even more sparingly in fundraising. Dialect is hard to read.)
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. (They’re real people in our case. But still, go easy.)
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things. (So true for us.)
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. (Super advice; develop a sense of what readers tend to skip.)

Then he gives his most important rule, the one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Follow these rules, and you’ll do well!


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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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