PRO TIPS | How to Share Feelings

publication date: May 30, 2023
author/source: Mary Cahalane

Feelings are how we connect best with other people. But how do you do that?

Think about communicating with one person, not an audience

If you’re focused on your audience, you’re thinking broadcast. And that’s perfectly reasonable – you’re writing something to reach a lot of people, right?

But… you’re really writing to lots of “one person at a time.” Each person who opens that envelope or email is one person. One person who you need to persuade to open their hearts… so their gift follows.

That’s why you want to keep it personal. Write as you talk. Even better, write as you talk to a close friend—someone you don’t have to polish yourself up for, a person you can comfortably share feelings with, someone you can be vulnerable with. (And someone with whom you can use grammar your fourth-grade teacher would have fainted over because it’s more conversational.)

And of course, remember that you are also one person… not an organization, so write from one person as well. No royal we!

Use language that communicates feelings

Easy to say, harder to do, right?

We’re often trained to be careful about expressing our feelings—showing how we feel could leave us vulnerable or could upset someone. Instead, we circle around feelings instead of just expressing them. (And sometimes that is the right and polite thing to do!)

But put all that aside when you write. If you need to, promise yourself this is simply a draft and no one will see it but you. (What do you think I’m doing right now?)

Then go ahead and use emotional language. Don’t reason. Don’t offer a logical explanation of a problem. Go there. See the problem through someone’s eyes and express it through their feelings.

An example

Consider the difference between:

We serve nearly 5,000 people each week, offering a meal and a place to warm up. But there are easily another 5,000 people who need us. Would you partner with us to provide more of our critical services?


She curled into the corner, hoping to cut the wind blowing through her sweater. Her fingers tingled – she knew that was bad. She wanted to cry, but the tears would only freeze on her cheek. She felt so alone. If only someone would care…

Which paragraph makes you feel something? Worry, guilt, sadness, the unbearable urge to find that woman and get her out of the cold?

Here’s a list of emotional words. Add them to your vocabulary.

Pick a point of view to put your reader right into the action

You can’t always do this. But if you can find a story, tell it from a compelling point of view.

  • First person means you’re describing the action as if you’re right in it. You’re the protagonist. “I went to the park that day and couldn’t believe what I saw!”
  • Second person brings your reader into the action with you. “When you go to the park, you might see something unbelievable!”
  • Third person – especially third person omniscient – can work really well, too. See the example above. The writer isn’t the woman freezing on the street. But the writer somehow knows everything she’s feeling.

Use what you need to get in touch with your own feelings

I usually write to music. It allows me to focus. But it’s also—always—emotional, and something emotional cuts right to my gut. Try it and choose something meaningful to you.

Images can help, too. Imagine you’re writing to someone you love. Put their photo in front of you and write to them. They won’t laugh. They won’t think you’re foolish. They’ll open their heart and feel along with you. And that’s just what you want someone to do when they hear from you, isn’t it?

Feelings are the most human – and most effective – way to communicate. They cut through so much noise! And thank goodness, they’re also key to decision-making. So, get comfortable with using emotional language when you write to donors. It’s the human thing to do!

This article originally appeared in the Hands-On Fundraising Blog and was reprinted with permission of the author, Mary Cahalane, Principal, Hands-On Fundraising.


Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

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