You sit down to write that quarterly donor update and the blinking cursor stares at you, challenging you to capture it all; your gratitude, a summary of the great work your team has produced, an urgent request for their continued support. You hash out a sentence and delete it.
You switch tabs and vow to write the update later...when you’re inspired.
We’ve been faced with our share of aggressively blinking cursors and blindingly blank pages. The pressure to write something can be overwhelming. So today we’re going to help you overcome the “failure to start” with a few tips and tricks for writing a donor update that will keep hearts, minds, and dollars focused on your work.
start in the middle
Here’s a blast from your past - namely your high school Language Arts class. In medius res - latin for “in the middle of things”. If you start your letter in the middle or dramatic high point of the story, your reader will want to know everything about how you arrived at that moment. Don’t start with a date, a location or crowd size; “On April 3rd at the library on Main St we welcomed 400 people to our opening event”). Instead, invite your reader into the middle of the action; “Jane’s stepped up to the mic and began to read her speech. Her tutor, Mark, looked on, his face clearly conveying an emotional mix of pride and awe. Just four months ago, Mark and Jane met for the first time in this library where they now stood. Just four months ago, Jane could not read. Now, Mark listened to her voice carry clearly across the room”.
less is more
The architect Mies van der Rohe is widely credited with having coined the phrase that defined a whole generation’s approach to design. In short, don’t try to tell your donors everything that has gone on in at your organization since the last time you communicated with them. It's so tempting to want to celebrate all the little wins. But it's too much information and I guarantee you that it's not what your donor wants to read. That can be overwhelming and end up blocking your writing process. Instead, pick one story to focus on and shape your narrative around that one theme.
always be writing
One surefire way to avoid the feeling of doom brought on by a blank page, is to keep tabs of your ideas when they come to you. Start an email thread with yourself called Donor Update Ideas. Every time an idea occurs to you, pull out that smartphone and jot it down. When you sit down to write, you’ll have a whole list of writing prompts to get you started.
gather the data you have
We live in an increasingly data-centric world. You’ve no doubt seen the memo that donors want to see data-driven results. You may not have sophisticated data about the impact of your programs, and that’s okay! But I guarantee you that you have more data coming into and floating around your organization than you even know. Pick just one quantifiable data point that you’d like to share with your donors - the number of meals provided, the number of participants in your last program, the number of likes on this month’s Facebook posts. Use that number as the prompt to get your story telling juices flowing. Better yet, use that number as a way to engage your donors. Celebrate that ten mentors signed up since last month and challenge them to contribute to the effort to double that number over the next month.