Three Key Components of Effective Donor Communication

Submitted by Kristine Culp on September 14, 2016 - 7:15am

When you work in the non-profit sector, the need for funding is always top of mind. Maybe you have an ambitious plan to grow your mission and impact. Perhaps you’re feeling the pinch of looming cutbacks to current funding. Inevitably, you’re going to have to make the case for financial support to a new potential donor.

It’s worthwhile knowing a few techniques of persuasive writing that are common in donor communications. They will strengthen your case by making it more human, more engaging, and more aligned with the donor’s perspective. Keep these tips in mind when you sit down to write:

1. Describe what you do in terms of the people you help. It’s fine to talk about your programs in detail – after all, you do need to show that you know what you’re doing, and that you have a plan – but remember to also help your donor see beyond your programs to the people whose lives are being changed. This can be simply a matter of reframing your impact. For example, instead of saying “We want to implement a breakfast program in schools in our community to address local food insecurity and improve learning outcomes,” you could say: “We want to make a life-changing difference for the children in our community who come to school hungry. By providing them with a nutritious breakfast every day, we can help them be ready to learn and supported toward their best chance of academic success.”

2. Make your donor the hero. Your funder will help make many good things possible. Why not reflect that in your letter or proposal? Think of your donor as the hero – the person or organization that steps in to help solve an urgent problem. Include phrases such as “Thanks to you …,” “With your support,” “You will help make this possible,” or “Your generosity is the key to …” and the like. Be aware of the number of times you say “we” compared to the number of times you say “you.” When your donor is the hero, you will say “you” more often.

3. Share a story about what you do. The human brain is hardwired for “story.” The logic of story is how we naturally think, says Jag Bhalla in Scientific American: “Every culture bathes their children in stories to explain how the world works and to engage and educate their emotions.” You can do the same for a potential donor by sharing a story of an individual who faced a challenge and was able to overcome it, thanks to your organization (and your generous funders, of course). A compelling anecdote is often the best way to make your organization’s mission and impact come alive.

Recommended Resources to Further Your Donor Communication Skills

If you’re looking for more tips on donor communications, two of my favourite fundraising gurus are Tom Ahern and Mal Warwick.

  • Tom, a former journalist, is a widely recognized authority on effective donor communications ( 

Have a look, and let us know if they are helpful, or if you have any further questions about making your donor communications as effective as possible.

Happy fundraising!

Kristine Culp Associate Director of Strategic Engagement for Tamarack Institute. Learn more about Kristine here.