Just Add Grit


Case studies, testimonials, survivor stories … whatever you call them, these forms of communication work well in fundraising. But only if they’re credible. Dress them up too nicely in your brand, and the skeptic in all of us starts to shrug and stop believing.

To make stories sound real, I try to get as close to the original account as possible. I talk to the people involved. I record them to capture their phrases and word choices. I ask them the kinds of questions I think a donor would ask. Even the awkward ones.

Digging deeper gives me a huge amount of content, and much of it seems irrelevant at first. My advice to anyone gathering content for fundraising is never scrap anything until you’re ready to actually brief your writer or write it yourself. Because contained within this secondary content, you’ll find personal asides, clunky expressions, and all the little bits of grit and humanity that tell someone that this person is indeed real.

To the untrained eye, these extra flourishes seem too much. In your eagerness to trim content down to the bare bones, you may end up with heartless copy. It reads well. It says all the right things. But it doesn’t get results because it just sounds phony. Kind of like those rehearsed moments when a politician pauses and says solemnly: “Consider the Watsons, a middle class family from…”

So may I make a request? Before you cut copy or ask your writer to make your stories sound more uplifting and inspiring, remember that life isn’t like that. Donors are always going to appreciate honesty in story telling, warts and all.