Unseen's Guide to Writing for Donor Communication

Your writing will have a direct impact on your ability to connect with donors, procure funding, and expand—so you can assist even more vulnerable people. The following is our best attempt to give you a glimpse into what we look for when we’re editing within the context of anti-trafficking and humanitarian work. Feel free to use these tips as a guideline in your own donor communication.


Make every word count. If you can say it with less words, please choose that option.

It gives a feeling of ‘now,’ forward motion, and a reminder that this person still exists today.

This isn’t a masters thesis. 
It’s meant to catch people’s attention, compel, and inspire people to get involved.

Show the survivor’s choices (agency), grit, resilience, and humanity.

Does your writing align with ethical communication?

People may have a knee-jerk, guilt-induced reaction to difficult and horrific stories, but will they stay engaged longterm to be part of the solution?

This is a tough one:  “trafficked for sex” vs. “raped many times a night” and will need to be balanced with goals for the piece, as well as intended audience.

Problem → Spark of Hope → Solution → History of Success → Hope/Vision for the Future → Call to Action

Show don’t tell. Use carefully-observed details and well-chosen verbs to bring the reader into the experience.


Edit Edit Edit.

Please make every word count. If you can say it with less words, please choose that option.

  • Original: When he overheard the social workers discussing the bakery program, he interrupted to find out how he could attend. They provided the details, and on the first day of school, he was the earliest arriver.
  • Edited: He immediately asked how to attend, and on the launch day of Restoration Baking Rwanda, Darius was first to arrive.
When possible, write in present or future tense.

It gives a feeling of ‘now,’ forward motion, and a reminder that this person still exists today.

  • Original: Since childhood, Mei had loved beauty products. She delighted in braided hair and painted nails, and she loved displaying her creativity through fixing her friends’ hair. Hearing about the new beauty school provided a glimpse of a better life, one where she could provide for her daughter and enjoy her daily work.
  • Edited: Since childhood, Mei has loved braiding hair, painting nails, and styling hair. Hearing about the new school provided an opportunity for a better life, where she could care for her daughter and do work she loves. 
Choose a moderate-to-casual writing style.

When you have the choice between formal and casual, choose somewhere along the moderately-casual to casual scale. This will differ based on partner, purpose, audience, and type of project, but in general Unseen leans toward a less-formal, concise, write-like-you-speak style. Contractions are welcome! This isn’t a masters thesis. It’s meant to catch people’s attention, compel, and inspire people to get involved.

  • Original: He longed to become an engineer, but growing up in an impoverished family in North East Thailand seemed to have placed this dream out of reach. When circumstances forced him to drop out of school during Grade 7, David’s parents told him he would never be smart enough to work as an engineer.
  • Edited: He longed to become an engineer, but growing up in an impoverished family in Thailand placed this dream out of reach. When circumstances forced him to drop out of school in 7th grade, David’s parents told him he’d never be smart enough to become an engineer.
Give strength and agency to the survivor. 

Show the survivor’s choices (agency), grit, resilience, and humanity. 

It is tempting to set the NGO or the donor up as a savior/hero, and the survivor as a helpless person in need of rescue. It’s easy writing and pulls on donors’ heart strings. We want to give dignity and humanity to each survivor of human trafficking or exploitation. It’s taken a lot of strong choices not only to survive, but to build a new life. We want to honor the NGOs and donors—and must show their vital role in what we write (as this is our audience!)—however we also want to lift the survivor and represent them accurately!

  • Original: Restoration Hope transformed Rosa’s despair into delight. 
  • Edited: Restoration Hope helped Rosa transform her despair into hope and a future. 
Example 2:
  • Original: We rescue girls out of prostitution—giving them hope and a future!
  • Edited: We help girls stop the cycle of oppression and create lives full of purpose and hope!
Further thoughts:
  • How have they played a role in their own ‘rescue’ or story?
  • Do you use strong, empowering words to describe them, or do you make them sound weak and in need of another person’s rescue?
  • Rather than only speaking of a survivor’s vulnerability and need of rescue, draw attention to the future impact they will make in the world around them.
  • When possible, stay away from words like “rescue” and “saved” as they tend to remove agency from people.
  • It differs per organization, but lean toward a word like “survivor” rather than “victim.” Use words that speak of empowerment, rather than dependency.
  • How can we avoid ‘white savior complex’? When appropriate, avoid portraying the white person as the center of the story, or as the one who saves the situation. Instead, focus could be placed on survivors/beneficiaries or local national staff of the NGO. Portray those the NGO is trying to assist as the protagonist of the story. Humanize them—give them individuality. Show them as taking charge of their own lives.
  • For the protagonist: Their story is simply a snapshot at a point in time during their life. This isn’t who they have always been or who they will always be. And most importantly, this is a person, not just a spokesperson for the partner’s cause and organization.
Tell stories ethically.

Does your writing align with ethical communication?

  • Don’t give the reader a reason to blame the subject of the story for their circumstances, or to tap into their hidden biases. Example: Among some readers, when reading the word “prostitute” some may subconsciously assume a woman is evil, is breaking up homes, and ‘taking husbands from their wives.’ They may see the woman as the problem and have little compassion. The word has baggage. Other words such as “sexually exploited,” or, when accurate “trafficked for sex” are helpful.
  • Ask yourself, “If the subject of the story read what I’ve written about them, would they be comfortable with it?” (With social media, it’s a real possibility that the survivor may read what you’ve written.) Will that person feel ashamed or proud? Will they consider it true? Overdramatized? Exploitative? Will the person be proud of the story that was told—or will they carry part of the shame of the experience?
  • Ask yourself if people or entities (government, companies, etc.) are being vilified in an unhelpful way. “Who does this story suggest is the villain. Is it true or helpful?”
  • Who is viewing or reading the story and how am I dignifying the viewer/reader? There isn’t a need to make an unnecessary chasm created by pity or tears. Them vs me. “The human connection is true to all—it’s one of our most basic needs…” The basic human connection is powerful. We don’t need to resort to unnecessary chasms of producing pity and guilt in others, try to conjure up false emotions in others, or heighten the story past what it really is. Help be a connector of humans, not a chasm-creator.
  • Although you may need to choose a ‘hero’ so that what you write has focus, please keep in mind there are ‘heroes’ all along the human chain: from survivor—to NGO—to Unseen (if part of the story)—to the participating donor. Each plays a role and has a valuable story. To intentionally minimize someone’s story is to minimize their value as a person. Of special importance: We also must not minimize the survivor so that the NGO can look like the ‘big brave hero’ rescuing the ‘small little survivor.’ Both have been very brave and bold, and made difficult choices to pursue health, rescue, and healing. We must be thoughtful of our power as writers, when tempted to portray certain people as heroes and others as victims.
  • How are you motivating your reader? Are you creating a short-term relationship between the donor and the recipient—fueled by pity and tears to get people to give? (A chasm) Instead, consider how to create longer lasting relationship. (Commonalities, connection, shared humanity.)
  • Dignity: How we tell the story matters. We don’t want to exploit one person’s suffering to get an emotional response.
  • Be aware of the temptation to exploit donors’ egos through how we tell stories. Overreach: When donors want to be connected to something because it helps their identity. They want to make themselves feel better about themselves. What is the story the donor is telling themselves as they read your piece? Are they really going to make a difference or is this an ‘ego-spurt’ as an opportunity to help others?
Instill hope! It’s more powerful than fear.  

People may have a knee-jerk, guilt-induced reaction to difficult and horrific stories, but will they stay engaged longterm to be part of the bigger solution? We believe that people are ultimately drawn to hope, so while our writing and marketing aims to help a donor clearly understand the problem each Unseen Partner is trying to solve, we also want to give donors a hopeful vision for the future—and a way they can join in it!

  • Original: If we don't find a new location for our children's home, these kids will continue to live in danger.
  • Edited: Your ‘yes’ to this project will open the door to making this home a reality. 
Example 2
  • Original: Without intervention, these children are more vulnerable to trafficking, abuse, sickness, and exploitation. 
  • Edited: With intervention, these children are less vulnerable to trafficking, abuse, sickness, and exploitation.
Don't overly sanitize.

This is a tough one, because it needs to be balanced with not over-sensationalizing or creating guilt and pity. And, each partner has a different audience and will know what will be most compelling and best received. Give it a try, and we’ll give you feedback!

  • Sanitized: “child marriage”
  • Reality: “sexual slavery, rape, domestic slave”
Utilize the Unseen Story Arc

We often arrange our writing—print, video, and websites—around a story arc. It’s based on Monroe’s Motivated Sequence and is a helpful tool for arranging content that inspires involvement. 

However, please feel free to confer with your project manager for more information! The story arc isn’t meant to be a strict formula or ‘order’ in which to arrange every piece, although having elements of the story arc throughout are often essential (i.e. problem, solution, history of success, call-to-action).

More details in Mapping Your Message Worksheet + Slides.

Problem → Spark of Hope → Solution → History of SuccessHope/Vision for the Future → Call to Action (CTA)

  • Does what you’ve written clearly tie back to the original problem—especially the solution you’ve described?
  • Does the CTA give emotional relief to the reader? (i.e. After hearing the depth of the problem, do they know what they can do about it?)
  • Have you inspired clear action? You may or may not be asked to cover the CTA in your writing. If you are, using language that gives the donor agency—that shows how they can join the organization in bringing hope and change, is often a great way to go!
Use Narrative Language

These stories are meant to compel and inspire people to get involved. We also want readers to connect to the characters in the story, who are real people. Precise details and well-chosen verbs allow the reader to be a part of the experience. We encourage you to show the actions, relationships, and feelings of the main character, versus telling the reader how to feel. This creates a strong, emotional connection for the reader.

  • Original: Jacob spoke at graduation and shared about how much his life has changed.
  • Edited: As Jacob shared about his experience in his speech at graduation, he said, “I now know my life matters.” 
Example 2:
  • Original: “He lived in horrible conditions when he was a child.”
  • Edited: “Pipes dripped sewage around as he slept on a dirty piece of cardboard.”


  1. Are my facts correct?
  2. Are my stats from a credible source? (Include links, if you’ve added stats.)
  3. Does the length and style of my writing fit the medium? (print, web, video, social)
  4. Does each word and sentence fulfill the purpose of the project?
  5. Have I used effective and consistent commas? (Please use the oxford comma.) Is the rest of my punctuation accurate and effective—including hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes?
  6. Am I nailing my intended audience? (age, religious background, country)
  7. Does my writing (if applicable) cover data-driven left brain decision-makers vs ‘story of one’ emotionally compelled givers?
  8. If written for a faith-based audience, does it use religious language effectively? 8a. When possible please stay away from overused, cliche language, or religious language preferred by a subculture. 8b. Before automatically including religious language, determine if it helps fulfill the purpose of the piece.
  9. Is this written with the medium (print, video, web) and context in mind?
  10. Do I use hope to inspire action, rather than guilt or fear?
  11. Is my tone effective? Does it align with the partners voice and intended audience?
  12. Have I written like an average person would talk? 
  13. Does it sound authentic (vs. overly sales-y)?
  14. Is the language I’ve used forward moving and action oriented (rather than passive)? Have I avoided past tense, where appropriate and possible?
  15. In stories, have I given great descriptive details and let people draw their own conclusions? 
  16. Where beneficial, have I written each sentence from scratch, rather than letting the original writing influence my final product?
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