Watch your focus: Three copy traps that unintentionally exclude donors

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reminded of how “minor” copy mistakes that unintentionally exclude donors can quickly add up to undermine your message, putting the focus on your organization rather than the good folks who support it.

Here are three examples:

1. “It’s about us.”

“Your gift will help us to . . .”

“You make it possible for us to . . .”

“[Organization] brings this promise to our community . . .”

Nothing separates donors from the outcome of their generosity faster than copy that either implies or directly states (even accidentally) that it is the organization that is doing the good work. For those who work in or support Christian charitable causes, don’t misunderstand. I believe with all my heart that it’s God who makes any good work possible.

But why not be careful about connecting your generous partners with the result of their gifts? It’s so easy to do: “Your gift will . . .” or “You make it possible to . . .” Take the organization out of the equation and with grace and humility let donors take their rightful credit.

2. “It’s our work.”

“Your partnership in our ministry/work/effort is critical.”

I think 99 out of 100 donors would interpret this just as I do — as strongly possessive. It excludes the donor.

If asked, I’m convinced most donors would say they love and respect the organizations they support. “Yes,” they’d proclaim, “I want to help [organization] help people.” But what they really mean is, “I want to see my charitable giving goals accomplished — the gospel proclaimed, the hungry fed, the sick healed. And I believe I can do that through this ministry.”

Fortunately, you can easily escape this trap. Why not use “Your partnership in this ministry . . .”? Or “This shared work of the gospel . . .” (if you wanted to be even more inclusive)?

A word to the wise about the word our: Be careful how you use it.

3. “Not you. Someone like you.”

“Thanks to supporters/partners/friends like you . . .”

The trap here is subtle. But the implication is clear: “I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about someone like you.” If I’m a donor, this isn’t me.

Like the other examples above, the best way to solve this is a simple recast — something along these lines: “Thanks to you and other supporters/partners/friends . . .”

The point is, these small traps can add up. Pretty soon you have a letter or newsletter article that is increasingly self-focused and excludes the donor. Your donors come away with the nagging feeling that they have been left out. Nothing could be worse for your fundraising.

These flub-ups get past even the most experienced writers sometimes. So make it a point to review fundraising copy with an eye toward donor focus. Put yourself and your cause in the background. Give donors the credit — and God the glory.