Have you ever gotten a spam email? They tend to go something like this:

“Dear Freind,

I am Prince Fayed W. Bolkiah, the eldest son of Prince Jeffrey Bolkiah former finance minister of Brunei… Before my in-castration, I went ahead to dispatch the sum of five undred million United States Dollars  in cash under special arrangement into the custody of different private Banks and trust company’s for safe keeping abroad. I seek your good assistance to invest these funds into a profitable investment in your country to facilitate future survival for my family abroad”

Ha. Well, I guess my financial problems are solved by His Royal Highness.

Perhaps you’ve gotten the e-mails promising “Do this one thing and you’ll never have to diet again”. Great! I can be rich AND skinny! There are spam emails for all your life’s problems – you can even find the “Chik of your dreams”.

The thing many of these spam e-mails have in common is comical spelling and grammar mistakes. I once received a spam e-mail from my bank, BMO, “Montreal” had been misspelled. I’ve heard people wondering why these spammers can’t seem to find some time to do a quick proof read before hitting send. If you have ever wondered that yourself – there are two marketing lessons you need to learn now:

  1. You are not the target audience of spam e-mails.
  2. The spelling mistakes are made on purpose.

The bad spelling is actually a strategic and targeted decision by the spammers. They know a PhD of English lit isn’t their target – so why bother making a well-crafted e-mail that is a thing of grammatical beauty.  If you are smart enough to know when Montreal is misspelled, you aren’t ever going to fall for the scam.

Spammers know that gullible people are their target – people who make their own fair share of spelling and grammar mistakes. The spammers know their audience and adjust their behavior accordingly.

Of course this method weeds out most of the “general public” – but the general public isn’t their audience.

So, what can we learn from these awful people who prey on the simple minded? Well, lots.

If you are a smart fundraiser – you get to know your donors. How do they behave? What do they respond to? What do they believe? What makes this group unique? And once you know your donors – you target your messaging accordingly.  You need to craft your marketing with your donors in mind – not the general public. When you are looking for new donors, target groups that most closely resemble your existing donors. If you try to sell to everyone, you will fail – because there is no general public.

Here are 5 ways you as a fundraiser should be communicating to your audience:

  1. Give them a reason to open the envelope. The best fundraising letter doesn’t mean anything if no one opens the envelope to read it. Handwritten addresses, real stamps, and teasers of what’s in the envelope (ie “your cancer-fighter newsletter is inside”) all help get the package opened.
  2. Make sure the font is readable to older eyes. Again, great fundraising copy is worthless if you can’t read it. That means larger type, and a serif font if it is print material. Think courier not Calibri.
  3. Keep it simple. Avoid jargon, fancy words, and be conversational. As Good Works Idea Goddess Leah Eustace reminds us: “If you write your fundraising appeals at anything higher than a grade 7 reading level, response rates will go down”.
  4. Use the word “you” – talk about the reader, what they have done, how their donations have made a difference – do not use “we” too often – bragging about your organization doesn’t raise money.
  5. Test! If in doubt about any of these tips, test them. Every mailing is an opportunity to get to know your donors better, and hone what messages and styles will resonate with them.

You need to make decisions based on what works – not what you like. Sometimes that is going to mean bad grammar, photos of sad children, choppy sentences, bolding and underlining for emphasis -whatever it takes tocommunicate effectively with your target audience. And we need to start doing it now – because it is a sad day when Prince Fayed does a better job of it than many of the fundraisers I know.


P.S. In an effort to stop internet spam, we should insist all Nigerian Princes hire Marketing Managers, to implement some nice brand standards and “consistent messaging” – it would kill their operation overnight.




Rory Green has been in the philanthropic sector for over eight years and is currently the Associate Director, Advancement for the Faculty of Applied Science at Simon Fraser University. Rory has also worked in major and corporate giving at BCIT and the Canadian Cancer Society.

Rory has spoken at national and international fundraising conferences, most recently starring in the “Kaleidoscope of Philanthropy” Plenary Session at AFP International, San Antonio.

In her spare time Rory is the founder and editor of Fundraiser Grrl, the fundraising community’s go-to source for comic relief.