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Doctoring up your donor communications

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

It’s been fascinating reading ADRP listserv posts about who’s doing what recently with communications and events. It’s also been interesting to compare how emails from organizations have approached the topic.

Like you, I’ve received a flood of messages from vendors, companies and institutions, many of which I’ve had minimal interaction with, everyone from the cable company to my software vendor. Here are a couple of instructive examples how two organizations communicated with their clients.

This first one is pretty typical:

We would like to provide an update on how XYZ Company is responding to the rapidly changing environment caused by the continued spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). At XYZ, we are prepared to maintain all our services, though we acknowledge there may be needed adjustments along the way as we navigate through these unprecedented times.

Nothing horrible, just vague, wordy and trite: “there may be needed adjustments.” (How about “we plan to maintain all our services, but we may need to adjust…”) A huge buzz phrase lately has been “in these _____ times,” which everyone is now “navigating.” Hackneyed and unimaginative.

But the main thing I noticed is that the company talked about itself and not about me, the reader. Any time you start a message with WE or I, you’ve already lost me as a reader. Plus this sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher droning on in her wah-wah voice.

But take a look at this second one!

It’s hard to put into words the whirlwind of emotions that this week’s COVID-19 news has wrought on our communities, our families, and our work. With the announcements of cancelled events, curtailed travel, and closed schools, I’m sure your lives have been shaken up.

At The ABC Company, our focus is always on people first—whether that’s our valued clients, your invaluable donors, or our amazing staff. People come first!

Like you, we are continuing to monitor the fluid environment around us. I want to share the steps ABC is taking to ensure your fundraising initiatives remain on course.

This message talks to ME — “our communities” and “your lives have been shaken up.” The tone is positive. No words like “regret to inform” or “unfortunately we have to cancel.” It’s “monitor” and “ensure efforts stay on course.” And the language! Using “whirlwind” and “wrought.” A real human being wrote this message.

Key takeaways:

  • Avoid "navigating in these trying times."

  • Talk to and about the reader as much as possible. Be human.

  • Keep things positive, hopeful, and constructive.

And with that, I will step off my soapbox.

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