Appeal Letter Do’s and Don’ts

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It’s spring appeal time and all of a sudden my mailbox is filled with requests for donations. Some good and some that could use improvement.

Whether you’re planning a spring appeal or one later in the year, here are a few lessons, courtesy of this week’s mail. We’ll start with some examples of what not to do and end with a couple of letters that got it right.

DON’TS

Your annual fund drive means nothing to me

One organization included a header saying it was their statewide annual fund drive. This means nothing to me and is not a compelling addition to your appeal.

Annual fund drive is an internal term, as is annual appeal and year-end appeal. People give to your organization because they want to help you make a difference for the people you serve. This is what you want to emphasize.

You can use the term annual fund drive around the office, but keep it out of your appeal letter. Open with a story or something such as Imagine what it would be like to go to bed hungry.

You only have few seconds to grab a reader’s attention, so don’t waste it by saying your annual appeal is underway.

The Best Fundraising Appeal Opening Lines

4 Unique Openings to Get Your Fundraising Appeals Read

You don’t know me

I receive many appeal letters from organizations I don’t support. It’s clear they don’t know me. There’s no attempt at making a connection. Most likely they got my name from a list they bought or exchanged. If I already give to homelessness prevention organizations, you could say you know ending homelessness is important to me.

One letter addressed me as Mrs.Green, which irked me because I don’t like being referred to as Mrs. I don’t know why this organization addressed me as Mrs. because I always check the Ms. box if there’s an option. Perhaps it was a typo or they don’t realize it’s 2018 and not 1958.

Be careful of how you address your donors or potential donors. These so-called little things make a difference.

I’m a donor, but you still don’t know me

An appeal from an organization I do support gave no clear indication of my previous gift. They sent a vague, one-size fits all letter that included a lot of bragging.

At the end, they thanked me for my “partnership and shared commitment to our mission,” but it wasn’t clear if they were thanking me for a previous gift or in anticipation of a gift. If it was the first, that thank you should have been at the beginning of the letter. Always thank donors for their past gifts.

The biggest fail came at the end in the P.S. when they asked me to consider a monthly gift. Someone’s not paying attention because I’m already a monthly donor.  

This is a large national organization that could easily segment their donors. That’s what you need to do, too.

Enough with the swag

So far three organizations have sent me mailing labels. Sometimes these come in handy, but right now I have enough to wallpaper a room.

Another organization enclosed a Certificate of Appreciation “In recognition of your generous support”even though I’ve never supported them. And if I did support an organization, I wouldn’t want a certificate of appreciation. What would I do with it? Hang it on the wall?

I’d like organizations to stop sending useless swag and instead invest their print budget in creating engaging thank you cards.

DO’S

Share engaging, personal stories

The letter from the organization that called me Mrs. actually sent a good appeal letter. It opened with a story about a homeless woman named Nettie. It also included a sidebar titled Meet Nettie, which included a profile and picture of Nettie. On the back, there were more short profiles of clients, along with their photos, which were titled Someone’s sister: Gina, Someone’s grandmother, Diane, and Someone’s father: Valentino.

I liked the personal nature of this appeal. We got to meet some of the people the donors are helping. This is so much better than a bunch of boring facts and statistics. Using names in stories is always a plus. You can change them for confidentiality reasons if you need to.

Make a connection and request an upgrade

When nonprofit organizations don’t take the time to segment donors, they miss an opportunity to ask for an upgrade.

Heifer International sent a letter asking me to become a monthly donor. It was from another donor, although I doubt she wrote the letter. It opened with “My name is Madge Brown. Like you, I support Heifer International……” Here, she’s making a connection.

Then she invited me to join their monthly giving program – Friend of Heifer. The envelope even included a teaser that said “Let’s be friends.”

One way to grow your monthly giving program is to ask current one-time donors to become monthly donors.

Write a better appeal

Keep all of this mind the next time you write an appeal. Start with an engaging opening and make a connection with your donors or potential donors. Share stories. Don’t send all your donors the same letter and remember the appeal is the first step. Use your print resources for a great thank you note instead of those annoying mailing labels.

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