6 ways to use stylistic and literary devices to connect with your donors on a deeper level

Old fashioned typewriter with note that says: Her love was like lavender —L. Chouette

Credit: Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

Think donors and prospects are just “passive participants” in your fundraising appeals, newsletters, and other donor communications? Think again…

By now you’ve heard how good stories change your brain by literally immersing you in the action.  (And if you haven’t, subscribe to my newsletter.  It’s nerdy like that.)

But maybe you haven’t heard how even bite-sized bits of beautiful writing can help your donors connect more deeply with your next fundraising appeal or newsletter.

Researchers report that adding even a single word or phrase that’s rich with emotion, metaphor, and description lights up not only the language centers of the brain – but also the regions for actually experiencing what’s being described. (Start with Roger Dooley’s Neuromarketing post to learn more.) Texture, sound movement and smell also work.

In other words, evocative writing lets readers live your letter.

That means literary and stylistic devices aren’t just for authors and poets.  For better results, retention, and relationships, smart fundraisers should use them too.

Here are six literary and stylistic devices that help me bring copy to life, explained and exemplified so you can try them too:

1. Alliteration:

This is when you use the same sounds at the beginnings of progressive words. (At the ends it’s called ‘consonance.’)

Lisa’s real-world alliteration examples:

  • “I am humbled and heartened to bring you…”
  • He winced when he walked.
  • …step inside the skin…

2. Rhythm:

Rhythm is massive in fundraising letters, because it can give your copy a poetic beauty that fires the brain in a similar way to music. (That’s a massive benefit: research from the 1980s right up to today continues to prove it – here’s one source. And to answer your question, yes: I regularly write custom-crafted poetry for fundraising packs.)

Lisa’s real-world rhythm examples:

  • “Move along, move along. Where are you supposed to go?”
  • “You want to cry – to shout – to scream in return.“

3. Simile:

Everyone knows simile, which uses “like’ or “as” to compare things. When well-constructed, very powerful.

Lisa’s real-world simile examples:

  • “He pulled himself along like a broken bird…”
  • “It’s like a scene from a museum painting.”

4. Personification:

Gives lifelike qualities to inanimate objects.

Lisa’s real-world personification examples:

  • “Still you stand to see the faint fingers of daylight fade…” (Daylight doesn’t have fingers, ergo: personification.)
  • “…the centuries-old books stand like sentinels…”

5. Texture, Sound, and Smell:

Self-explanatory; evocative descriptors.  Smell can be as simple as a single word or phrase: coffee, jasmine, a baby’s head.  (For more refer to Neuromarketing post referenced at the start of this post.)

Lisa’s real-world texture and sound examples:

  • “the jagged pain in your foot”
  • “the crunch of gravel”
  • “clinkety-clink went the coins into his cup”
  • “the silken whisper of fur through your fingers”

6. Foreshadowing and Flashback:

Flashbacks pull you back in time; foreshadowing hints at what’s to come.  (Fundraising Copywriting Tip: This is really useful when you have too much tension in a story and are concerned your reader will shut down. Sometimes you have to let them know first that everything worked out – to create safe space for reading – before you can tell the bad stuff, as with animal or child abuse, for example.)

Lisa’s real-world foreshadowing/flashback examples:

  • “The creamy brown birthmarks that dotted her skin foretold tumors growing in her body. They foretold a part of her tomorrows as well.” (Foreshadowing)
  • “Her eyes grow wide when she describes The Belt.” (Flashback. This girl had been abused, so I used flashback or it would have overwhelmed.)


You don’t need to memorize literary and stylistic devices to use them well. Take a google to see other ways people use them – or see if you can pick them out of the next book or appeal you read.  Then try them… seriously, try them.

Because there’s enough boilerplate fundraising storytelling out there – and donors deserve so much better.  In the end, if you can give your prospects and donors beautiful well-crafted copy, they’ll connect with you on a whole new level.  And that connection can change the world.

About Lisa Sargent

Lisa Sargent is an award-winning fundraising copywriter and story strategist on a mission to transform the way nonprofits communicate with their donors, for visibly better results and retention. Contributing author to acclaimed decision science book Change for Better and upcoming author of Thankology, Lisa’s free Donor Thank-You Clinics were named one of the world’s “top 10 gifts for fundraisers” by SOFII (Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration) and remain the most-ever visited exhibit there. Follow Lisa’s no-holds-barred blog Sargent Writes and subscribe to her newsletter, The Loyalty Letter, for free insights on the art, heart, craft, and science of generous stories, fundraising writing, and donor communications.

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