Write Better Fundraising Materials by Targeting Four Personality Types

Your Readers May Have More Than One of These

Smiling people who might be donors.
••• Compassionate Eye Foundation/Chris Windsor/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Tom Ahern, a master of fundraising copy, suggests that when you start writing any communication piece (letter, brochure, newsletter, direct mail package), imagine that you have "four sets of ears."

Each set of ears pays attention to a different group of stimuli and represents one of the four basic personalities that reside in the minds of your readers.

No, your readers are not mental basket cases. We all have aspects of these personalities in our heads. Perhaps one dominates, but they are all there in some measure.

Ahern, in his book, How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money, labels these personalities as amiable, expressive, skeptical, and bottom-liner.

Here are tips about appealing to each type:


Our amiable sides are downright friendly. We respond to people and stories about people. This part of our brain wants to help, nurture, and be part of a community. To tap the amiable personality, be sure to:

  • Use photos in your materials...of faces. Use them to establish eye contact with the reader. Yes, a reader will make eye contact with a facial image, so make sure the subject's eyes are nice and big.
  • Write anecdotes, stories about the people your agency helps. Create a scene in your reader's mind. Don't use abstractions, but develop stories that will tug at the heart strings. It is the best way to explain what you are all about. Author Ahern says that "...fundraisers use anecdotes as micro-documentaries that instantly interest, educate, and inspire strangers."


Our expressive sides plead for something new. They crave what they don't already know. Give your readers a dose of news right away to get their attention. It could be a fact, statistic, or a new program. Place the news in the first paragraph of your appeal letter, on the home page of your website, or on the front page of your newsletter. 

What is news?

  • A daring new program.
  • A story about how a client changed his/her life.
  • An emerging trend.
  • A problem that no one knows about yet.


This is the wary part of your brain. Readers, while they may respond to your anecdotes, do not just sit down and write a check. That is because they are wary, afraid of being taken, suspicious of fundraising appeals. How do you deal with such skepticism? By figuring out all the objections ahead of time and answering them.

  • Provide answers and lots of information in an accessible place such as your website. People of all generations now research people, places, anticipated purchases, and the background of your nonprofit right online.
  • Develop a list of FAQs. Brainstorm with your staff and come up with any and all objections or questions a skeptical person might ask about your agency. Prepare answers and then post the top ten FAQs on your website, print them in your materials, circulate them to your volunteers.
  • Provide testimonials. Credible testimonials are immensely soothing. Use real people talking about problems that your agency has solved. Good, credible testimonials are one of the best tools for addressing skepticism.


Our bottom-line side wants to know what to do next. What are we supposed to do? And how, exactly, will we do it? For instance:

  • Use a "call to action" to trigger this side of your potential donor. Say, "Send us a check. Put it into the enclosed self-addressed, postage paid envelope." Tell the reader exactly what to do and then make it ever so easy to do it.
  • Do you want the reader to volunteer? Provide a name, plus an email address or telephone number, of a person to contact.
  • Want to capture the reader's email? Enclose a card and ask him or her to return it; or, better, send them to your website to sign up for a newsletter that will be emailed. Make the request explicit and then put that "subscribe" link prominently on your home page.
  • Want the reader to download a document or form from your website? Give explicit instructions about how to do that.

With these "personalities" in mind, your fundraising materials will appeal to the heart, provide real news that will get the reader's attention, provide facts and more facts to quell skepticism, and tell the reader what to do and how to do it.

These are just some of the "trade secrets" of highly accomplished writers of fundraising materials.

Tom Ahern, in How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money, has packed his less than 200-page book with many more insights and tips. Ahern specializes in writing copy that motivates donors to give.

You don't have to be a brilliant writer to do the same, but you do need to know the best practices that have been proven to work.