Kate Snyder

Kate Snyder

We’ve been telling you for years that most nonprofits need to create less formal communications. Sometimes, it’s a must to write like a human. But we know a lot of you are not being heard by your executive director or board members. Kate Snyder, who is the donor communications coordinator for South Hills Interfaith Ministries and also runs Kate Write Now, shared how baby steps may be in order to convince your boss to be more friendly. ~Kivi

Guest Post by Kate Snyder of South Hills Interfaith Ministries

Confession time.  I like sentence fragments.  And starting sentences with a conjunction.

My high school English teacher would probably be appalled.

Writing for fundraising isn’t like writing a five paragraph essay, though.  When you’re communicating with donors, it’s important to sound like a human, rather than a robot who swallowed a thesaurus. (If you’re not totally convinced of this, I refer you to the work and research of Tom Ahern.)

This goal – of writing in a “voice” that connects with your donors- can be tricky to achieve.  A lot nonprofit leaders seem to channel their inner English teacher when it comes to their organization’s communications.  (I worked with an executive director who hated the word “kid.”  She thought it was too informal, too much like slang.  When we wrote about our amazing, life-changing summer camp, we talked about all the “children and youth” who would benefit from the program.)

It was frustrating.

So how do you convince your ED or your Board to loosen up? It CAN be done!  Right now, an organization I work with is using a thank-you letter that opens with: “And the MVP award of the Sack Hunger campaign goes to…YOU!   Woo Hoo!  The crowd goes wild…!” 

Getting to that point of colloquial, connected language was a process.  Here are some suggestions.

Start Small – Pick one particular type of communication piece to experiment with.  I used an e-newsletter because, in general, organizations seem a bit more comfortable taking a less formal tone in email communication (as opposed to print).  I inserted my voice into the e-newsletter and let people know who they were talking to by signing my name and providing my direct contact information.  The e-news was no longer coming from (distant and formal) South Hills Interfaith Ministries, but from (personal and real) Kate Snyder, South Hills Interfaith Ministries Communications Team Member.

Document Your Success – We immediately started getting positive feedback on the tone and feel of the e-newsletter.  Donors and Board Members would reply to the e-blasts with words of encouragement about how a particular subject line made them smile, or how they enjoyed the phrasing of a request for help.  I forwarded those messages to the Executive Director so that he would know people were enjoying the e-newsletter.

Slowly Expand – Once you have successfully established a personal tone in one communication genre, slowly expand into others.  I recommend thank-you letters as your next area.  It’s fun to write extravagant thanks, and I’ve noticed that Boards rarely micromanage the thank-you letters, so you’ll have room to experiment.  After that, move on to print newsletters.  Save the direct appeals for last (but do try to get there!) because organization leadership tends to be most nervous about – and therefore most protective of – the fundraising appeals.

Respect the Medium – Although I’m a huge fan of personal, connected language, you may need to use different “voices” for different pieces.  A grant proposal will look and sound different from an event invitation.  Your print newsletter will probably sound a bit more formal than your Facebook posts. And that’s okay.  Write in the style that connects most with your intended audience.

How were you able to convince your boss to loosen up the language in your communications? Let us know in the comments below!

After achieving a degree in archaeology and spending several years traipsing around the world, Kate realized that she was not, in fact, Indiana Jones.  It turns out, she’s a fundraiser – and proud of it!  These days, Kate uses her love of language to help nonprofits connect with their supporters through grants, newsletters, direct mail, and online platforms.