Write Better Fundraising Materials by Targeting Four Personality Types

Your Readers May Have More Than One of These

Smiling people who might be donors.
Compassionate Eye Foundation/Chris Windsor/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Tom Ahern, the author of the popular book, "How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money," suggests that you imagine that you have "four sets of ears" when you start writing any fundraising communication piece.

You can use these "ears" for a letter, brochure, newsletter, direct mail package, or social media.

Each "set of ears" pays attention to a different group of stimuli and represents one of the four basic personalities that reside in the minds of your readers. No, your readers are not mental basket cases. We all have aspects of these personalities in our heads. Perhaps one dominates, but they are all there in some measure.

Imagining that you have those sets of ears, representing various personality types, will help you understand how to communicate with each one, according to Ahern.

Major Personality Types

Ahern, in his book, has drawn on the ideas of Sigmund Freud, Freud's collaborator Carl Jung, and Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays (a famous publicist of the mid-20th century), to develop his theories around personality and how to use them to communicate with potential donors.

Those four personality types, as theorized by Ahern, are amiable, expressive, skeptical, and bottom-liner. There are no firm lines between these types. Most people have a dominant trait but can exhibit any or all of the others at various times.

  • The amiable personality may be the easiest to imagine and for which to write. The amiable personality tends to be friendly and responds to stories about people or animals.
  • The expressive personality type is a seeker of the new: he or she enjoys novelty, the unusual, and is attentive to new information.
  • The skeptical personality is wary. This type doesn't fall easily for warm stories. Instead, this personality type wants the facts and likely takes time to warm up to your offer.
  • The bottom-liner personality may be impatient. He or she may skim over the details and look for instructions about what to do, where to go, and how, specifically, to make a difference.

Here is how Ahern explains each type and his tips for appealing to each.


Our amiable sides are downright friendly. We respond to people and stories about people. This part of our brain wants to help, nurture, and be part of a community. To tap the amiable personality, be sure to:

  • Use photos of faces in your materials. Use them to establish eye contact with the reader. Yes, a reader will make eye contact with a facial image, so make sure the subject's eyes are nice and big.
  • Write anecdotes, stories about the people or animals your agency helps. Create a scene in your reader's mind. Don't use abstractions, but develop stories that will tug at the heartstrings. It is the best way to explain what you are all about. Ahern says that "...fundraisers use anecdotes as micro-documentaries that instantly interest, educate, and inspire strangers."


Our expressive sides plead for something new. They crave what they don't already know. Give your readers a dose of news right away to get their attention. It could be a fact, statistic, or a new program. Place the news in the first paragraph of your appeal letter, on the home page of your website, or on the front page of your newsletter.

What is the news?

  • A daring new program.
  • A story about how a client changed his/her life.
  • An emerging trend.
  • A problem that no one knows about yet.


Skeptical is the wary part of your brain. Skeptical readers, while they may respond to your anecdotes, do not just sit down and write a check. That is because they are afraid of being taken in and suspicious of fundraising appeals. How do you deal with such suspicions? By figuring out all the objections ahead of time and answering them.

  • Provide answers and lots of information in an accessible place such as your website. People of all generations now research people, places, anticipated purchases, and the background of your nonprofit right online.
  • Develop a list of FAQs. Brainstorm with your staff and come up with all objections or questions a skeptical person might ask about your agency. Prepare answers and then post at least the top ten FAQs on your website, print them in your materials, and circulate them to your volunteers.
  • Provide testimonials. Credible testimonials are immensely soothing. Use real people talking about the problems that your agency has solved. Good, credible testimonials are one of the best tools for addressing skepticism.


Our bottom-line side wants to know what to do next. What are we supposed to do? And how, exactly, will we do it?

As a writer, instructions are not the most exciting things to develop. But they are essential for the "bottom-liner" parts of our readers' brains.

Sometimes we forget that people don't know what we know. Just because we know how to navigate the donation page, we may skip over vital instructions for those who don't know. Always be explicit.

Ahern offers several suggestions to satisfy that need to know.

For instance:

  • Use a "call to action" to trigger this side of your potential donor. Say, "Send us a check. Put it into the enclosed self-addressed, postage-paid envelope." Tell the reader exactly what to do and then make it ever so easy to do it.
  • Do you want the reader to volunteer? Provide a name, plus an email address or telephone number, of a person to contact.
  • Want to capture the reader's email? Send them to your website to sign up for a newsletter that will be emailed. Make the request explicit and then put that "subscribe" link prominently on your home page.
  • Want the reader to download a document or form from your website? Give explicit instructions about how to do that.

Can You Target Multiple Personalities?

Yes, and you should. It would cost too much to try to tailor individual communications for each personality type. In any case, we all have a mixture of these types. We might lean in one particular direction, but we will have traces of the other types as well. But do consider including, when writing any complex communication, aspects that appeal to all of these types.

As you're writing and after you finish the first draft, ask yourself if you have included something that will appease the needs of all four personality types.

The Bottom Line

With these "personalities" in mind, your fundraising materials will appeal to the heart, provide real news that will get the reader's attention, provide facts and more facts to quell skepticism, and tell the reader what to do and how to do it.