The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Fundraising Copywriting

Our Top 10 Takeaways

By Annetta Murphy - Oct 25 2019

Our Head of Creative Annetta, and Sian Norris (Fundraising Copywriter, Journalist, and Author) led a session on copywriting in the Institute of Fundraising’s Scotland conference earlier this month. The 80+ fundraisers in attendance told us:

"Best one I have been to, other presentations lack real examples, but not this one."
"Good examples, good pace, good practical tips."
"This has given me loads of food for thought. Great speakers."

So in case you missed them there, here Annetta gives us a rundown... 



Our aim was to give attendees as many practical tips as we could jam into a one-hour long session. Tips that fundraisers could bring back to the office and start applying straight away.


  1. It all begins with a story. Share your powerful stories. Don’t embellish, don’t bore. Never lie! It’s all about “the truth well told”, as Ken Burnett says. There’s always a hook, an emotional centre of every story, that you can develop into a riveting piece of communication – it’s your job to find it! If there isn’t one, find another story!


  1. Know your audience. Never lose sight of who you are writing to. What are their interests? What motivates them? Speak directly to them.


  1. It’s about YOU (the donor) Don’t be that organisation that talks about themselves and their success, and bores people into switching off and walking away.


  1. Show, don’t tell. I still fall into this trap. Thankfully, I have a solid team behind me, who remind me that it’s our job to paint the most vivid, compelling and truthful stories that will draw donors in.


  1. Grab them with a great opening. Don’t overwhelm with an over long and over complicated opening sentence. It’s the best way to turn off donors. Instead, follow Tom Ahern’s advice. Start with “a single vibrating sentence surrounded by white space. Something so simple and clean it enters the brain without any extra effort.”


  1. Work those emotions. Emotional doesn’t always mean sad. Shock, pride, anger, outrage – they’re all in your arsenal. Harness the right emotions for your organisation. And avoid guilt at all costs (it may hook donors initially, but it won’t keep them in the long run.)


  1. Hurry up! If you’re not giving donors a reason to act now, you’ll lose them. Give deadlines; make it clear what’s at stake if they don’t respond now.


  1. For donors, giving isn’t just about the money. Your donors want to change the world in some small way. Show them that by supporting your organisation they’re doing just that. As Simone Joyaux says… “My giving isn’t about money. I want to join a fight I think I can win. It’s my fight, my interests, my


  1. Don’t forget to say thank you. You don’t need to write something long-winded. You do need to be prompt and sincere. Address donors by their name (and spell their name right!), tell them what their gift is doing, and remind them of what a great thing they’re doing by donating. Leave them with a warm glow.


  1. It’s also about YOU (the fundraiser) Look after yourself! We’re all working to solve huge problems in our society. It can be emotionally draining work. Especially if you’re writing, and entering the headspace of your beneficiaries on a regular basis. Create a culture in your organisation where you’re listened to and heard. A place where people can establish boundaries and space around themselves.

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Annetta Murphy


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