5 Deadly Nonprofit Fundraising Mistakes

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Guest blog by Kathy Widenhouse

When times are hard, one of the biggest nonprofit fundraising mistakes you can make is to complain. Partners and prospects read negativity, and click “delete” or toss your letter quicker than the latest stock market indicator plunge. And why not? They hear plenty of it already on the news.

Even in down times, you can cultivate your readers and build your audience. One key is to keep the right tone. Make sure you avoid these other nonprofit fundraising mistakes in your development copy that could lead you down the wrong path … and cause you to lose supporters.

Mistake #1: Stop Mailing

Money is tight and you’re desperate to cut costs. Caution: don’t shut down communications altogether. Find ways to trim expenses and stay in front of your audience. Instead of sending a full newsletter, try a postcard mailing that includes a short story. Eliminate a print mailing from your schedule and add additional e-mail blasts. Use social media.

Mistake #2: “Me” Mailing

It’s not all about you!

Readers care about your cause, not about your organization’s day-to-day operations and infrastructure. Successful development pieces focus on those you serve and those who make your work possible. Rethink those articles that highlight your internal machinations, and instead run content about your clients, your committed volunteers, and supporters who sacrifice and cheer you on. A conversational point of view makes your copy even more accessible: use “you” and “yours,” not just “me,” “I” and “us.”

Mistake #3: Boring Content

Forget waxing philosophical. Focus instead on your organization’s real-life impact. Use snapshot profiles, colorful anecdotes and targeted statistics. Let your stories and appeals sparkle with excitement.

Mistake #4: No Ask

Always offer your readers the opportunity to partner financially with you, even if it’s just a simple or soft ask.

Remind them that gifts are tax-deductible.

Mistake #5: Ingratitude

You may get tired of dreaming up creative ways to thank your supporters. Or in the rush, you may forget to express your appreciation. Don’t let this happen! Always—no matter what—make a point to show gratitude. It’s simple to do and it needn’t be fancy. And your partners, prospects and supporters never get tired of hearing, “Thank you. We can’t do it without you.”

Originally published at

Kathy WidenhouseNonprofit board member turned copywriter, Kathy Widenhouse provides strategic consultation to help nonprofits get their message out and get results. She has written six books and more than 100 articles, and appeared in more than 40 periodicals. Her website can be found at

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