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University Marketing and Communications

Development Resources


The Art of Development Writing

Writing for fundraising, donor relations or corporate and foundation relations means putting the donor at the center of your story. It’s writing that influences a reader’s thoughts, actions and emotions by aligning their passions with areas in need of support. Here are some tips when crafting proposals, case statements or letters to donors.


Development Writing Best Practices

  • Align university values with donor values.
  • Make donors the hero of the story. After all, their support will solve the issues at hand.
  • Use the donor’s name and “you/your”
  • Don’t talk about what the university or college is accomplishing. Instead, talk about how the donor has empowered students.

Sprinkle in data and facts to support the overall story you’re trying to tell. This helps build the case for support and establishes credibility. It also creates an opportunity to incorporate infographics/charts.

Here’s an example:

  • There are 24,000 students at Fresno State.
  • Approximately 66% are the first in their family to graduate from college. 80% are in need of financial support. And 80% stay in the region after they graduate.
  • When we add people like you and me together, we inspire positive change. Together, we are the solution: empowering students to become our next generation of leaders.

Data will lead people to draw conclusions, but only emotion will inspire them to act. Use emotion in Development writing. Wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.

Tell the stories of students who’ve overcome adversity, of compelling experiences, and use quotes to speak for themselves. As often as possible, incorporate stunning photo and video.

  • Scholarships support qualified students pursuing STEM fields.
  • The 18-year-old high school senior, Alexander, excitedly read his scholarship award letter. “I’m going to college,” Alexander told his parents, eyes filled with wonder and unshed tears. “I’m going to be a doctor. I can’t believe it.”

Jargon puts a barrier between you and the donor.

A 2014 survey found that 23% of respondents were “interested now” in “making a gift to charity in my will.” Only 12% were “interested now” in “making a bequest gift to charity.”

That’s because jargon and acronyms alienate readers and should not be used in Development communications. Instead, use language you would say in everyday conversation. If you must use jargon, explain what it means.

Jargon includes:

  • Unrestricted Gift
  • Endowment
  • Endowed Chair
  • Food Insecurity
  • Legacy Gift
  • Bequest
  • Charitable Lead Annuity Trust

Oftentimes, we wait to ask donors to make a gift until the end of a proposal, after paragraphs of copy. But there is no guarantee we captured a donor’s attention for that long. It’s important to make the ask early and often in proposals. This keeps the proposal purposeful, highlights the need and puts the donor at the center of the story.

93% of donors say they’ll give again if they’re given meaningful information about how their gifts work. That’s why it’s important to show donors how they’ve made an impact. Give examples of students who have benefited from donations and be specific about how far a donor’s gift can go.

When you write, leave out all the parts readers skip. Keep editing down. Here’s an example:

I would like to thank you for making your generous gift to the university.
Thank you for making your generous gift to the university.
Thank you for your generous gift to the university.
Thank you for your gift to the university.
Thank you for your gift.
Thank you.

Gifts big and small make a transformative impact on students. Donors’ generosity should always be celebrated and appreciated with personal thank you messages and follow ups.

Always have a second set of eyes proof your copy for accuracy and strength. Here are some things to remember:

  • Proof for word repetition
  • Avoid contractions – it’s, you’ve, we’ll, we’re
  • Bold and italics
    • Bold: Use sparingly to add emphasis – helps the “ask” stand out
    • Italics: Use for titles of books, journals, newspapers, periodicals, films, compositions, works of art and/or quotes
  • Numbers
    • Less than 10, spell it out – “one, two, three”
      10 or more, use the number – “10, 11, 12”
  • Start with action words
  • Use strong words vs. weak words
    • Strong: Loyal, strengthen, collaborative, generous, advances, investment, impactful
    • Weak: Need, get, use, make
  • Be inclusive – “our community vs. the community” or “the students vs. our students”
  • Do not speak in absolutes – “the only”
  • Stay positive:
    • “It wouldn’t be possible” vs. “it is possible”
    • “We are not only strong and stable” vs. “We are strong and stable”
  • If you stumble when reading, rework your sentence


Letters to Donors

  • Date
  • Address block
  • Salutation
  • Body
  • Closing
  • Signature

Here is an example: 



First Name Last Name



City, State Zip

Dear First Name:

Your generosity is felt across Fresno State – by our determined students, by our innovative professors and through our progressive and entrepreneurial programs. You make Fresno State’s mission possible and we are grateful.

If you have any questions about this year’s report, please contact Leticia Reyna Cano at 559.278.7459 or

Philanthropy has always been an essential component to Fresno State’s success. The endowment you steward is a long-term investment that will impact generations to come. Thank you for your continued support and commitment. 



Brady Crook

Vice President for University Advancement

  • Use "Dear" when the recipient's name or title is known – "Dear Mr. Doe" or "Dear Sales Director." 
  • When the name or title is unknown, go the extra mile to find a name or dept.
  • Always punctuate the salutation of a business letter with a colon instead of a comma.

  • Know your audience 
  • Define the purpose
  • Be audience-centered:
    • All about the reader
    • Write to “you” the reader 
    • Genuine and heartfelt
    • Explain the impact 
    • Add a personal note
  • Use short sentences and paragraphs
  • Add substance 
    • Know the data
    • Add a human face
    • Use action verbs
    • Leverage mission
    • Create urgency
  • Add a P.S. to reinforce the ask
  • Avoid objectionable content

  • The complimentary close is a word or short phrase that basically means "goodbye." 
  • "Sincerely" is the most common closing remark. Others include "cordially," "best wishes," and "best regards." 
  • The complimentary close can vary in degrees of formality and is dependent upon the relationship between the sender and recipient.

  • Emailed letters: The signature is simply the sender's name and title typed immediately below the complimentary close. 
  • Mailed, faxed or hand-delivered letters: There should be a large enough space below the closing and above the typed name and title for the sender to provide her written signature.
  • Letters en masse: Add an e-signature in blue font.
  • Avoid adding digital signatures framed in a white box. 

  • Always format margins as left justified
    • A letter should feel like a handwritten letter.
    • A right justified margin creates uneven white space which makes a letter hard to read.
  • Align body of letter with left justified logo
    • Use the latest version of logos.
    • Be careful not to distort logos.

  • Use size 12 font for easier reading.
  • Avoid all caps for easier reading.
  • Capitalize the first word at the start of a sentence:
    • It has been proven that healthier people drink more water. 
  • Capitalize proper nouns in a sentence:
    • There are amazing restaurants in Paris.
    • Hiking at the Grand Canyon is awe-inspiring. 
    • I do not care where Tom Cruise spent his summer vacation.
  • Capitalize all words except conjunctions and prepositions in a title:
    • How to Land Your Dream Job
    • The Cat in the Hat
  • Capitalize formal titles when the title precedes one or more names:
    • Vice Presidents Kent Willis and Bao Johri
  • When a title stands alone or is offset from a name by commas, it should be lowercase:
    • The president was on vacation.
    • Our director, Ashley Ilic, leads a large and productive team.
  • If the individual is not permanent, do not capitalize adjectives describing the status of the title:
    • interim AVP for University Communications Monique Beeler
  • When copying and pasting, check for consistent font size and use of the same font.

  • Be mindful of diversity – ethnicity, age, gender, and all shapes and sizes.
  • Choose the right tone and timing.


One Sheets, Proposals, Stewardship Pieces

Execution of these projects will follow the content templates and procedures outlined in the Development Process Overview. Directors of Development are encouraged to review the overview document and submit requests for support form University Marketing and Communications through the Development Project Request Form.