Four Ears: Communications Theory & Your Fundraising Appeal

Photo by allyaubry

Today’s guest post is from Jason Konopinski. Check out his last post on IG on storytelling.

Tom Ahern, in his book, How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money, suggests that when writing any communication piece (letter, brochure, newsletter, or direct mail package), the organization should imagine that the reader have “four sets of ears” while noting that each of us express one of four basic personalities (amiable, expressive, skeptical, and bottom-liner). Copywriters and content creators tasked with writing fundraising appeals should focus on touching each of these four personality types at least once in every package produced:


As social creatures, human beings respond to people and stories about people. We want to nurture, participate in, and encourage our communities. To connect with the amiable, be sure you:

  • — Use photos in your materials of peoples’ faces. Use them to establish eye contact with the reader, and forge an emotional connection with their story.
  • — Write anecdotes and stories about the work your organization does and the people that it helps. Create a scene in your reader’s mind. Develop stories that are relatable, share personal narratives, and evoke an empathetic response. Ahern says, “. . . fundraisers use anecdotes as micro-documentaries that instantly interest, educate, and inspire strangers.”


Give your readers a bit of news early. A riveting stat that speaks to your organization’s mission, a blurb that shares a recent success or the need to keep the mission going. Identify new problems and challenges to give your appeal a little extra punch. Make your lede stand out.


Let’s be honest. Constituents and donors get a lot of fundraising appeals, and they want to know where their money is going, and how it’s being utilized. When donor dollars are finite, organizations have to appeal not only emphatically but logically.

  • — Park answers and lots of information on an easily accessible place on your organization’s website. Be clear about the history, mission, and reputation of your nonprofit and make the information easy to find. Direct donors to visit your site for additional information.
  • — Develop a list of FAQs. Anticipate objections, develop answers, and publish the list of FAQs on your website, showcase them in your print materials (both in direct mail packages and volunteer canvassers).
  • — Provide testimonials. Credible testimonials are worth their weight in gold. Use community partners and stakeholders talking about problems that your agency has solved.


Make your appeals actionable. If you want to have your readers take some action, make it easy for them to do so. A clear call-to-action (i.e. pledge your support, send us your financial gift, complete this online form) requires tight, uncluttered copy.

  • — Consider repeating calls-to-action throughout your fundraising appeal letter and making it visible on the outside of your envelope.
  • — Provocative language can capture attention and interest, but use it sparingly.
  • — Enclose a postcard to capture information or direct them to your website to subscribe to your newsletter.
  • — Provide volunteer opportunities to your donors.

Writing copy that drives and motivates donors to give is invaluable to the NPO.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *