Fundraising is a counter-intuitive profession. But it is a profession. Experts research fundraising tactics and test strategies to find out what works.

Often, the results seem illogical. Like is the case in writing fundraising letters that actually raise money.

The We/I Test

In our fundraising letters, we typically think our job is to convince donors that we – the nonprofit is a safe investment. So we talk about us, our accomplishments, all the great we are doing.

Is this your approach? There’s an easy trick to find out.

  • Print out a copy of your latest fundraising letter. And grab a red pen and a black pen.
  • With the red pen, circle all references to your nonprofit, yourself, and the pronouns “we,” “ours,” and “our.” These words will put your fundraising in the red.
  • With the black pen, circle all the words about the donor, typically “you,” “yours,” and “your.”
  • Count up the red circles and count up the black circles.

How did your fundraising letter do?

When I start coaching nonprofits, their typical one page fundraising letter has around 37 red circles to only about 7 black circles. That is not good.

Worse, 5 of the 7 black circles are three-quarters of the way down the page, in the asking line! “Would you help us with our mission by giving your gift of ____ to our fund today?” (Even that line has more we’s than you’s!)

We’re so full of “we’s,” I’ve even heard this called “the French test” – does your letters sound like we, we, we?

The goal is to write your letters to the donor and talking about the donor as much as possible.

Taking it further

Fundraising letter expert Steven Screen challenges nonprofits to not even refer to themselves in their fundraising letters. Donors are smart. They know you sent the letter. They don’t need to be reminded about your name in every paragraph!

Last week at a United Way regional conference, Neil Parekh, Director of Network Communications for United Way Worldwide, said we could even go as far as to replace our nonprofit’s name with “you.” Instead of “United Way did x,” it should be “You did x.”

For example, if the fundraising letter normally said “Our United Way gave 32 filled back packs…,” the letter should be “You gave 32 filled back packs…because of you, 32 students…”

Pretty powerful, isn’t it?

Will you take the Red Pen Fundraising Letter Challenge?

As you plan your year end appeals (June 30 year end) or plan your fall fundraising letters, will you take the red pen challenge? In the comments here, let us know how many red circles vs. black circles you get!

If you want, you can even post images of your letters to the Ask Without Fear® Facebook page at:

Connecting the donor with the impact without talking about your nonprofit feels risky. But this one change alone is causing nonprofit professionals to double and triple the fundraising done through their letters.

Will you take the red pen challenge?

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As a bonus, you'll get free fundraising tips every other week too!

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