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Brand Strategy and Marketing

Development Resources


The Art of Development Writing

Writing for fundraising, donor relations or corporate and foundation relations means putting the donor at the center of your story. It’s writing that influences a reader’s thoughts, actions and emotions by aligning their passions with areas in need of support. Here are some tips when crafting proposals, case statements or letters to donors.

Development Writing Best Practices

  • Align University values with donor values.
  • Make donors the hero of the story. After all, their support will solve the issues at hand.
  • Use the donor’s name and “you/your”
  • Don’t talk about what the University or college is accomplishing. Instead, talk about how the donor has empowered students.

Sprinkle in data and facts to support the overall story you’re trying to tell. This helps build the case for support and establishes credibility. It also creates an opportunity to incorporate infographics/charts.

Here’s an example:

  • There are 25,000 students at Fresno State.
  • Approximately 70% are the first in their family to attend college. 80% are in need of financial support. And 80% stay in the region after they graduate.
  • When we add people like you and me together, we inspire positive change. Together, we are the solution: empowering students to become our next generation of leaders.

Data will lead people to draw conclusions, but only emotion will inspire them to act. Use emotion in Development writing. Wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.

Tell the stories of students who’ve overcome adversity, of compelling experiences, and use quotes to speak for themselves. As often as possible, incorporate stunning photo and video.

  • Scholarships support qualified students pursuing STEM fields.
  • The 18-year-old high school senior, Alexander, excitedly read his scholarship award letter. “I’m going to college,” Alexander told his parents, eyes filled with wonder and unshed tears. “I’m going to be a doctor. I can’t believe it.”

Jargon puts a barrier between you and the donor.

A 2014 survey found that 23% of respondents were “interested now” in “making a gift to charity in my will.” Only 12% were “interested now” in “making a bequest gift to charity.”

That’s because jargon and acronyms alienate readers and should not be used in Development communications. Instead, use language you would say in everyday conversation. If you must use jargon, explain what it means.

Jargon includes:

  • Unrestricted Gift
  • Endowment
  • Endowed Chair
  • Food Insecurity
  • Legacy Gift
  • Bequest
  • Charitable Lead Annuity Trust

Oftentimes, we wait to ask donors to make a gift until the end of a proposal, after paragraphs of copy. But there is no guarantee we captured a donor’s attention for that long. It’s important to make the ask early and often in proposals. This keeps the proposal purposeful, highlights the need and puts the donor at the center of the story.

93% of donors say they’ll give again if they’re given meaningful information about how their gifts work. That’s why it’s important to show donors how they’ve made an impact. Give examples of students who have benefited from donations and be specific about how far a donor’s gift can go.

When you write, leave out all the parts readers skip. Keep editing down. Here’s an example:

I would like to thank you for making your generous gift to the University.
Thank you for making your generous gift to the University.
Thank you for your generous gift to the University.
Thank you for your gift to the University.
Thank you for your gift.
Thank you.

Gifts big and small make a transformative impact on students. Donors’ generosity should always be celebrated and appreciated with personal thank you messages and follow ups.