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Before you tell your stories, find the patterns…

Published 9 months ago • 4 min read

Sometimes the breakthrough you've been looking for comes down to one last piece of information — a single defining moment. Is this what you've been seeking? Here's hoping you'll find it in this 95th issue of the Fundraising Writing Newsletter. If you're feeling amenable, please forward this to an amenable colleague. Thank you! (Amenable colleagues can ​subscribe here for free.)

In this issue:

  • Before you tell your stories, find the patterns…
  • Randomly yours: to inspire and recharge you

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Hi Reader,

Brett here:

This is not a spoiler, I swear!

If you've seen the movie that connects to the following image, you'll know...

If you haven't seen the movie and you turn it on right now, this photo still won't mean a thing to you until you get to a certain key moment in the story when — warm-fuzzy-spine-tingling shudderseverything connects!!

(there's a pattern)

A wonderful thing when it happens. In media and in life.

You may get the everything-connects feeling sometimes, when the stars align. In a puzzle-like movie or book. During rare moments involving, say, a first kiss ... or a flash of insight ... or a spiritual awakening.

The image and GIF above are from The Usual Suspects. The film is now 3 decades old. I can't confirm that it still holds up overall... but the coffee-cup-dropping everything-connects ending is forever burnt into my brain.

And it's the sort of moment that illustrates the importance of gathering all the "skeleton keys" of potentially useful info you can get your fundraising hands on.

We hope the following will be one of those keys for you...

Before you tell your stories, find the patterns...

Recently, we wrote an impact piece for a client that helps people with various disabilities. After interviewing the man our client is helping, it came time to start drafting a hook.

In many ways, writing is an infinite playground. There's no one path. Many paths can lead to wonderful places.

But still, starting a fundraising piece is crucially important. People skim. Attentions are short. You want those first words to do some heavy lifting.

So it helps to have a convenient way of thinking about hooks. Here's one way that might help:

Before you tell your stories, find the patterns...

A "side quest" mental exercise for you...

See if you can't notice the pattern Julie and I homed in on for our hook (the opening paragraph) you see below.

(Names and details have been changed.)

George Philips is the sort of person his family describe as “very huggy.” He’s also very inclusive. He loves all goodhearted people. He enjoys spending time with his life consultant, Jolyn, and his brother’s dog Dolly. George likes watching new episodes of Jeopardy and old episodes of Magnum P.I. He proudly lays out a Yankees jersey on his bed so he’ll be ready for tomorrow — and, moments later, proudly shows off the Red Sox hoodie he’s hung in his closet. (Talk about inclusivity!)

Now go ahead and see if you can reverse engineer the pattern...

* * *

Okay, let's check our work. First some additional background:

Our client's mission includes promoting many kinds of inclusion. Hence, the idea of inclusion was top of mind for us as we brainstormed hook paragraph ideas.

Turns out, the pattern we recognized in our interview notes helped us frame the story with a different kind of inclusion — a general openness to many kinds of people and experiences — which helped us to highlight the inclusion our client promotes as they serve people with disabilities.

Let me break it down for you. Here's the pattern:

  • George is huggy. (His hugs are physically inclusive.)
  • George loves his life consultant, a woman. He also loves his brother's dog. (He's inclusive of people and animals.)
  • George watches old episodes of a classic game show and new episodes of a classic crime drama show. (He's inclusive of new and old forms of entertainment.)
  • George is proud of his fan gear two rival teams. (He's inclusive of opposing teams.)

Here's how we explained our thinking on this hook paragraph to our client in an email:

We meet George. We get to know his lovability and quirks. It's a glimpse of the impact right away before transitioning to the story of the problem George faced recently before entering the community home and improving his habits and routines and health. The part about him being inclusive is a good way to talk about inclusion as a unique framing device. He's inclusive because he loves so many different kinds of people and things, even including the Yankees and the Red Sox.

These details were all there in our notes from the beginning. The pattern we found by intentionally looking for patterns helped us unlock how to present these details in a way that works on the heart level as well as on the subliminal gut and brain levels.

Finding this pattern gave us a great gift. From the beginning of this impact piece, we were able to focus on George, his lovability, his humanity, and his connection to the mission-level goal of inclusion.

After starting with the individual — the human, the heart — every mention of inclusion in highlighting our client's good work thereafter resonates all the more. (It "hits different.")

That's the power of a pattern!

Randomly yours: to inspire and recharge you

For your brain, heart, and funny bone...

  • Fundraisingly InformativeSign the letter, pretty please by Tom Ahern (a newsletter piece about the importance of prioritizing what works in fundraising, even if "it doesn't sound like me")
  • Divergently Beautiful S06. Episode 2: InfiniTeach | Aliyah, Ned & Katie via Amplify Inclusion (a 33-minute podcast episode about the importance of fostering an inclusive culture and valuing neurodiversity in the workplace)
  • Amusingly Generic ‘Thought Leader’ gives talk that will inspire your thoughts via CBC Comedy (a 4-minute video that parodies the format of a typical TED Talk; HT: Ephraim Gopin)
  • Too-magically Delicious BEWARE OF THE FOOD THAT ISN’T FOOD by Helen Lewis (an Atlantic article about the dangers of, for example, eating a piece of food that won't go rotten if it falls to the floor of your car and remains sight unseen for months)
  • Boldly Italicized YayText (a tool that gives you the power to bold or italicize on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter)

Until next time: May you find all the patterns and lift all the hearts (without breaking any coffee mugs)!

All our best,

PS: Here's the latest in our weekly video series, Win It in a Minute. You can (and maybe want to?) subscribe here.

In this video, Julie, Rachel Muir, and Tom Ahern answer the question:

Quarterly printed newsletters or electronic?
video preview

PPS: Rachel will be teaching a workshop on donor surveys next week. Highly recommend! (You can register here.)

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Hi! We're Julie Cooper and Brett Cooper, fundraising copywriters for great causes. Does your fundraising bring in as much money as it could? You can send donor communications that stir hearts to action. We'd love to help. 💛 Start by subscribing to our FREE weekly newsletter.

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