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Writer's Corner: Are you scaring your donors away?

(This post was originally published on Kivi's Nonprofit Communication's Blog)

In horror movies, lots of scary people look perfectly normal at first. They have a slight evil glint in their eye, but for the most part, present themselves as upstanding members of the community. Until they hatchet attack the naïve neighbor.

In our nonprofit world of doing good and producing the quality marketing and communications needed to help raise the money to sustain those good works – there are scary people ready to hatchet attack your mar/com and scare your donors away. They look really, really normal and very familiar! They wear khakis! They share their hummus and carrots! They give you a ride when your car is in the shop!

Who are these scary people disguised as nice people?

They’re your lovely boss, your friendly coworkers and you.

In your earnest efforts to make things perfect, be politically correct, satisfy your board, adhere to “best practices” and exercise your inner Hemingway, you’re hatchet attacking your work and scaring off the very people you’re trying to engage – your donors.

Here’s how you wield that hatchet…

You’re over-thinking, over-editing, nit-picking words, choosing photos for the wrong reasons and spending way too much time going over and over your newsletter, end of year report, fundraising letters, brochures, fliers, web copy and social media.

Kivi and I have seen it all! Working for nonprofits of all shapes and sizes – we’ve encountered these gory scenes:

  • The placeholder website featuring two year old “news” that remains online because no one can agree on the homepage content. Or remember how to log onto the website manager.

  • The bequest letter that circulated around the office for over a year (yes, a year), gathering hundreds of red marks which was foreshadowing because yes indeed, it was never read – or sent. That org’s donors probably named the charity across the street in their wills.

  • The newsletter that initially had a heart-warming front-page photo of a volunteer and child planting flowers in your hospital’s community garden – but then your boss told you to swap it out for a photo of five board members lined up like smiling soldiers.

  • The end of year appeal that was succinct, upbeat had a clear call to action and engaging ask until it was over-edited and your Executive Director dealt the final blow – he added a paragraph at the top. It “explained” what you do and gave the letter “context,” he said.

Are you scared yet? Getting chills? Having visions of a little guy named Chucky or that handsome Governor with the eye patch from Walking Dead? Good! That means you’ve read this far and this is sounding familiar. Maybe you’re laughing! I hope so…

Because nonprofit marketing and communications isn’t scary – it’s fun! You get to write stories about nice people doing good things, take photos and if you’re lucky, you have someone on staff (or yourself) who has graphic design experience and you get to make pretty things.

You get to play psychologist and put yourself into the mind of your audience – your donors – and think “what do they care about” and “why did they first start giving to our charity…” It’s fun because you’re doing something that matters and because you care. If you don’t think it matters and you don’t care, maybe you’re in the wrong line of work. But if you’ve read this far, you do care and Kivi and I are here to tell you that you don’t have to be scared anymore…

We can give you many, many helpful hints, tools and tricks to streamline your marketing and communications, make faster, easier, better choices and most of all – give you the permission to just get it done without ruining the good stuff. Get that letter out the door. Post those photos. Finalize your newsletter. Don’t make changes that ruin the initial creative inspiration that makes your content authentically engaging. In the brilliant words of my friend Allison, “perfection is the enemy of good.” I love that!

Do you need help with writing? The Planned Giving Agency offers many services for you! Visit our WRITING SERVICES page and read all about it.

You can find so many great nonprofit writing resources at

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