Open-Hearted Writing

Write Drunk, Edit Sober:
How to write a fundraising appeal

I’ve learned a lot from fundraising writer and guru Tom Ahern.

Last year at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference, Tom helped me with an end of year appeal letter. My letter concept was edgy: “He died doing what he loved.” And, it doubled the number of new donors acquired compared to the previous year.

I saw Tom again this year at the NPSC, and again he told us all to “Write drunk. Edit sober.” This advice always gets a laugh, but not many people follow it.


One evening last month, I tried it. I connected with Tom on Facebook to find out what wine pairs well with a crowdfunding story. He suggested an Old Vine Zin.

Two glasses of wine later, I put on my headset, turned on my dictation software, and told myself the story of a kid who comes home from school every day to a home that is way too quiet. I talked about how she feels. I shared how my client’s program ends her loneliness, helps with homework, feeds her dinner, etc.

Then I ranted for 15 minutes about all the reasons people should support the program. Ranting was fun!

The next morning, sober, I looked at what I had written. Seven pages of content, some of it surprisingly good. The story I needed for the crowdfunding page was right there on the first page. While it certainly needed some editing, this was the fastest I’ve ever produced an appeal.

Why did this work so well for me? Is it because I’m uptight and need to loosen up? Maybe.

Here’s the deal.

The story you tell your donors has to connect their hearts with the heart of the person you are helping. When your brain gets in the middle of that interaction, you’ll kill the emotion. You’ll kill the connection.

You have to find a way to get your brain out of the way and let your heart write the story.

People don’t give because they think you spend your money wisely, or because you measure your outcomes, although those are both important. People give because they feel. They care.

The emotional connection your donor makes is the heart of any good fundraising story.

That emotional connection is the way to get and keep loyal donors.

So, here’s your call to action: Open your heart before you write. Or hire someone who can.

Need some help with your holiday fundraising? That’s what we are here for. Contact us now to see how we can help you reach your Holiday 2016 goals.

Flaming Heart Photo Credit:RedHeartsRule