"You start out with this big idea of what to say, and slowly it becomes 'more correct' — and less authentic," Thompson said.
You want to make sure your copy has actionability and accountability. Know what works to inspire your donors, and don't over-edit the message to the point of losing that emotional appeal.
Start planning now for November and December
Year-end is prime time for fundraisers. As much as 30 percent to 40 percent of your yearly gross revenue (especially online) may come in December. That means it's never too early to start planning.
"As a colleague of mine is fond of saying, plan your mail and mail your plan," Manes said. "Fall mailings are so important. Look at the results in fall to see what works and what doesn't," and use your strongest appeals in December.
Don't take any chances or you risk being left out, he added.
Test new universes to spike prospecting response rates
"The charity donor universe for your prospecting is getting tapped out and tired. You may have to think outside the box for prospecting," Terpstra said.
Donor lists comprise just 15 percent of the total gross names available on the list market, he said, yet some nonprofits rely too heavily on donor lists for acquisition. Terpstra suggested opening the door to commercial list possibilities by using a regression model to tap into larger publishing or buyer databases. He also said fundraisers should try co-ops (like Abacus, Wiland, Target Analytics) because some of their prospect models have great response rates.
Find a reliable 'tone checker'
How you say something is just as important as what you say, so have a "tone checker" read your letters, phone scripts and e-mails before they go, Thompson said — it's more important than spell-checking.
"Everyone needs a 'tone checker.' If you don't get a lump in your throat from the message, cancel or edit it," she said. "Nonprofits connect supporters to their missions and beneficiaries. We're only linkers here, so we must make an authentic link between those two players."