August 13th, 2015 .

Ten Things To Never Do In A Fundraising Proposal

Pat Morden





  1. Make claims you can’t back up. If you want to use the phrase “world class,” make sure you’ve got some credible data.
  2. Insult your donors. By suggesting that they only give to get recognition or by telling them things they already know about your organization. It’s a fine line – you don’t want to leave out anything important, but you do want them to feel like they’re part of the in crowd.
  3. Overwhelm your donors with scientific, medical or other jargon. It’s hard for donors to give to something they really don’t understand. Ask others to explain things to you until you understand, and then find a simple, clear way to pass the knowledge along to donors. Whenever possible, keep the grade level under 10 and the readability score over 50%.
  4. Forget that they have feelings. No matter what you’re talking about, donors will be moved by human stories. They want to feel, to engage, to be involved. Be sure to put a human face (or lots of human faces) on every project you describe.
  5. Forget that they’re busy people. Maybe you have time to prepare a 40-page proposal (really?), but they probably don’t have time to read it. Be clear and concise, and always include a one-page executive summary that brings it all together.
  6. Fall into the trap of thinking it’s all about you. You’re looking for the sweet spot where your donor’s interests and your organization’s needs intersect. Remember that people don’t give because you need them to give: they give because they need to give.
  7. Look unprofessional. Make sure your proposal looks like it’s coming from an organization with capacity. That doesn’t mean it has to be glitzy, but it does mean that it must be well written, grammatical, correctly spelled, tidy and nicely printed.
  8. Forget to ask. The most fascinating proposal in the world won’t be effective if you don’t ask for a gift!
  9. Forget to say “thank you.” Most proposals go to donors who have already shown commitment to your cause. Be sure to thank them for any previous gifts of time or resources.
  10. Be vague. Your job is to describe how donors can make a real difference. Say exactly what their gifts will accomplish and how that will help the people you serve.

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