Try the “Grandmother Question” to improve your fundraising

In fundraising, the words we use matter.

The “rule” is this:

  • Warm, emotional, “family” words are good. They are more likely to move people to give.
  • Formal, complex, technical words are bad. They can demotivate people from giving.

Some of us wish there was a master list of “good” and “bad” words for fundraising. If there is one, I’d like to see it. But Russell James, writing on LinkedIn proposes something that might be better than a huge word list.

He proposes that we ask ourselves a question about our writing: Would you have used this phrase in a normal conversation with your grandmother?

See the post at Using Family Words Not Formal Words in Fundraising Story.

The Grandmother Question gives you a decision point. If you realize you’ve written something you would not say to Gran …

Be careful. You might be slipping into technical, formal, or contract language. This language can shift the listener’s frame of mind. It can shift to a detached, defensive, market-exchange perspective. This inhibits sharing.

When you use Grandmother language, you are solidly in fundraising territory. Where we are thinking about sharing, caring, helping, giving.

When you get technical and formal, you are in logical, financial, detached territory. And that is very bad for giving.

The challenge is this: we routinely use technical language with our colleagues and among ourselves. Where it’s a useful way to communicate. We do it so often and so skillfully that it sounds “right” to us. It’s the proper way to talk about the work our organization does.

But it crushes fundraising.

I urge you to add a step to your fundraising process.

Vividly imagine your grandmother — or any older relative you knew well and loved. Then read your work out loud to her.

You’ll notice right away if you’re in good or bad fundraising territory.

And you’ll see the results in your fundraising.


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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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