Not Just Another Gimmick – Commercial Creative Writing Principles

A content editor from SOFII asks about commercial creative writing principles and “Harry Potterising” appeals

Q1: I’m not sure what you mean by ‘commercial creative writing principles’. Do you mean the type of writing that some authors use when they want to be sure they will have a blockbuster?

A: That’s precisely what I mean. And after having reviewed numerous successful appeals, I’ve come to realize that these appeals often use these principles. The Fundraising Creative Writing Series will provide examples and tools so that fundraisers can apply them to their own appeals. Read the launch article for more detail on the five principles:

  • Imaginatively engage with your reader while you write
  • Keep the structure simple and elegant
  • Tap into elemental human emotions
  • Uncover the conflict and make the donor the protagonist
  • Show! Don’t Tell!

Q2: Shouldn’t we just be advising fundraisers to start telling their own true stories and then show them how to do it? Using words such as ‘commercial creative writing techniques’ seems to me to be likely to send them scurrying off to follow a formula.

A: Excellent question! Ultimately, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Here’s the thing. I remember having a conversation with Liz Loudon on the telephone some months ago about the surprising lack of good storytelling in the Third Sector. There’s some. But there should be more. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this lack and my conclusion is this: many fundraisers lack the practical tools to know how to tell a good story.

By pointing out the creative writing principles that work well for the public, I’m providing the how of storytelling. And I suppose at the end of the day that does mean providing formulas. But that’s because formulas work. Formulas, especially as far as creative writing is concerned, provide the framework for creativity to be effective and focused.

By using the phrase “Harry Potterise” I’m simply referring fundraisers to greater cultural phenomenon that reveals the deeper needs of donors at large. And I think it’s important to think widely and creatively in our approaches to understand donors.

Also, by using that phrase, I’m not suggesting that charities write fiction. I’m simply referring to the creative writing principles that are already used in successful appeals (as well as other forms of storytelling intended for mass public consumption). These principles apply to non-fiction as well. I’m not referring to genres; I’m pointing towards the creative writing techniques that are employed in popular non-fiction and fiction – and that can be used to add persuasive power to appeals.

Thanks again to the editor who took the time to ask such insightful questions! It made me think more deeply about the purpose of the series.

I’m hugely grateful to for their showcases of donor communications. I’ve used their content for examples on numerous occasions.

If you want to be a better writer, put it on your calendar to go to SOFII’s website once a week to review examples of high-performing appeals etc.

Donate a comment or a Tweet.

I love providing free helpful content to charities. But I also want to make sure I keep motivated given my other responsibilities.

A comment or a Tweet (@CopyPhilanthrop) would make my day.


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