Wow, what happened to summer? How did it get to be September already?
We’re about to enter the busiest time of the year, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal. Hopefully, you’ve started planning your campaign. Now it’s time to think about writing your appeal.
Your donors will receive a multitude of appeal letters this fall and many of them will be the same old generic, boring appeal.
You can stand out if you take some time to write a better appeal. Don’t settle for the same old, same old.
Make your first impression a lasting impression
First, you need to get your donors to open your letter. If you can’t get them to do that, then all your hard work has gone to waste.
Perhaps you’d like to include a teaser on the outer envelope. That doesn’t mean one that says 2019 Annual Appeal. That’s not inspiring. Instead, say something like Learn how you can help the Miller family move into a home of their own.
An oversized or colored envelope can also capture your donor’s attention.
You want to be both personal and professional. If hand addressing the envelopes isn’t feasible, make sure your mailing labels look clean, are error-free, and aren’t crooked. Use stamps if you can.
Create an inviting piece of mail.
Share a story
A good appeal letter should open with a compelling story. Focus on a person or family and not your organization. Your donors want to hear about the people they’ll be helping. For example, you could tell a story about how the Miller family moved from shelter to shelter before being able to move into their own home.
You could also share a first-person story from a client/program recipient.
Include a photo
Include an engaging color photo in your letter or on your pledge form. Photos can tell a story in an instant.
Here’s more information on creating stories and photos.
Tell the Stories Your Donors Want to Hear
Entice Your Donors With Visual Stories
Next comes the ask
Ask for a donation at the beginning of the next paragraph (after the story). Make sure it’s prominent and clear. Also, ask your current donors if they can give a little more this year.
Phrase your ask like this – We’re so grateful for your previous gift of $50. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?
If you’ve been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year, they shouldn’t mind if you ask for a larger gift. Including the amount of your donor’s previous gift is helpful since people often don’t remember what they gave before.
Make donor-centered front and center
Don’t make your letter all about your organization. Show your donors how they can help you make a difference and how much you appreciate their role in that. Make your donors feel good about supporting your nonprofit.
Share your success
Highlight a few accomplishments from the year and show how you plan to continue your good work with your donor’s help. Remember to stay donor-centered!
Personalization is key
Send different letters to current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, people on your mailing list who haven’t donated yet, event attendees, volunteers, and friends of board members.
Don’t send everyone the same appeal. The more you can segment, the better, but at the very least, you must do these two things.
Send a personalized appeal to current donors. Let them know how much you appreciate their support.
Also, send a specific appeal tailored to monthly donors, giving them the recognition they deserve. You can ask them to upgrade, too.
It’s a huge pet peeve of mine when I get a generic, one-size-fits-all appeal letter. Go the extra mile for your donors, so they’ll continue to support you.
Your appeal letter should also have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend, which is really more like Dear Anonymous Stranger.
This may sound like a lot of work, but if you give yourself enough time, it should be doable. Personalizing your letters can also help you raise more money.
Make it easy for your donors
Include a return envelope with amounts to check off or an envelope and a pledge form. Show what each amount will fund. Do this on your donation page, too.
How To Create Donation Tiers That Drive Donations
Some donors will prefer to donate online. Direct them to a user-friendly donation page on your website.
Donation Page Best Practices For Nonprofits; Tips for Great Donation Pages
Offer a monthly or recurring giving option
Monthly gifts can generate more revenue and improve donor retention. Encourage your donors to give $10 or $20 a month. If they do, you’re getting gifts over $100 each!
How to start a monthly giving program for your small nonprofit
Be careful and don’t send an appeal to your current monthly donors that invites them to become monthly donors. That’s one reason why they need their own appeal.
Your letter must be easy to read (or scan)
Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists, along with bold or color for keywords, but keep it tasteful. Make it easy to read and scan. Most people won’t read your letter word for word. Use a simple font and 14-point type.
It’s fine to go over a page, especially if you’re breaking up the text with a photo and short paragraphs, but I wouldn’t go over four pages. You can also add a quote or short testimonial. These can be powerful and it helps break up the narrative.
Think of your letter as a conversation with a friend
You can create a better appeal if you think of your letter as a conversation with a friend. That means not using jargon like at-risk youth and underserved communities. Be specific and use everyday language. Your goal should be for your reader to understand you.
Refer to your reader as you and use you a lot more than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?
Too many editors spoil the appeal
Your entire staff doesn’t need to be involved in writing your appeal. Generally, the more people you involve in writing your letter, the worse it becomes. Fundraising Consultant Tom Ahern refers to this as letter writing by committee.
Your best writer should craft it and then turn it over to your best editor. Whoever signs the letter (your Executive Director?) can take a quick look at it, but don’t send it to a committee.
If you don’t have someone on your staff who can write a good fundraising appeal, then hire a freelancer or consultant to do it.
Besides weakening the content, involving more people takes extra time.
Keep that good impression going
Repeat your ask at the end of your appeal. Don’t forget to say please and thank you.
Be sure to add a PS. People often gravitate to the PS as they scan the letter, so include something that will capture their attention. Here you could emphasize monthly giving, ask if their company provides matching gifts, or thank them for being a donor.
Get your pens out
Include a short handwritten note, if you can. Make it relevant to each donor, such as thanking her for a previous donation or letting him know it was nice to see him at a recent event. Hand sign the letters in blue ink.
Are you ready? Spend some time writing a better appeal letter that will capture your donor’s attention and bring you the donations you need. Good luck!
Read on for more advice and resources on writing a better fundraising appeal.
10 Steps to Create a Fundraising Appeal Letter That Brings in the Money
Six Ways to Punch Up Your Fundraising Appeals
Direct Mail Fundraising: 5 Strategies for Every Nonprofit
Write the Perfect Donation Letter (+ Examples & Template)
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