For Whom Do You Write While Cultivating Donors?

by Jo-Ann Mort and Judith Wineman

Our approach to every client project – development planning, donor outreach, media relations – is to create the singular message that defines the organization and tweak it for individual situations. It’s vital that an organization be branded with a clear set of messages that define the group in all aspects. These messages can be multi-purposed for various needs, re-crafted for different audiences by tweaking them and they can be delivered using varying methods.

Message creation is a living process and is perhaps the most vital time for development and communications professionals to work together. In challenging economic times, we cannot afford to lose the impact of emotional connections in our messaging. Communications professionals can help frame the message for decision makers such as executive directors and boards as well as potential funders.

In creating development materials, there are a few essential questions we suggest asking:

  • Who is your audience? Are you reaching out to current donors, potential donors, lapsed donors? Each audience requires a different approach.
  • How do your audiences interact? Do they interact? Since it’s likely that your donors are grouped in peer groups, it’s useful to prep current donors with talking points to reach out among their peer group to potential and lapsed donors.
  • How are you reaching out? A personal letter, for example, will be very different from a mass mailing. A Facebook appeal, an appeal on your website, a phone conversation or a donor meeting all require their own approach.
  • Who is writing? When you are using a written appeal, consider who the best messenger is for a particular audience. It could be a peer-donor, or the board chair, or even someone who has been impacted by the organization’s work. Each messenger will be able to carry a different approach to your message.
  • What will it take to maximize impact? Once you know your audience and have chosen your messenger, you need to design a strategy. Don’t settle for a single approach solely. A one-on-one donor meeting always requires a follow up thank you email or phone call. Consider the message with each step.
  • How might you repurpose your materials? Suppose you’ve written a press release and it isn’t picked up. Can you adapt it into an op-ed with enough turn around time to keep it relevant that donors might see? Should you create a one-pager or a brochure?

Development professionals often need to write lots of types of materials simultaneously. For example: You have to write a sponsorship letter for your gala and a newsletter and an appeal letter for the board to use. When things pile up like that, it becomes easy to fall into a language rut and start cutting and pasting. No doubt, it’s time consuming to create variety, especially when you find something that works. Unfortunately, no matter how good one approach is, that language needs to be thoughtfully reformatted and rethought out to present it in a different setting. Even though you should be clearly branded with a uniform message, the language that you use and the voice that expresses your message should be distinct for each audience. It’s actually helpful to do a bit of role-playing here. Imagine yourself in the receiver’s role and consider how you’ll process the information that gets sent to you. Lapsed donors will need to be mined – why did they lapse and what bit of information along with the appropriate messenger – could indeed bring them back into the fold?

Potential donors will want to know why your particular organization merits their money and attention in an incredibly competitive marketplace. These varying groups of donors will need signifiers whom they can trust. So, each time you write something for your organizational donor outreach, think of the material in the context of a personal conversation, not an impersonal presentation. It will help you save time while cultivating donors.

Jo-Ann Mort is CEO of ChangeCommunications, a strategic consulting firm based in New York City with clients in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere. Before starting her company 5 years ago, Jo-Ann directed communications for the Jewish Funders Network and also for the US Programs of the Soros foundations network, OSF.

Judith Wineman, of Resource Development Consultants, works with ChangeCommunications on behalf of clients.