Are you starting to worry about whether you’ll raise enough money this year to meet your goals?
Are you concerned because last year’s appeal didn’t raise as much as you had hoped?
Are you fresh out of ideas for what to put into an appeal to generate the giving response you need to sustain vital programs?
Fear not! Help is on the way! Just use my gift to you — this 25-point checklist — before you send anything to your printer!
Guidelines for Your Annual Appeal Letter:
Crafting fundraising appeals is not rocket science, but you do have to adhere to certain guidelines if you want to achieve blast-off. So… here come some guidelines!
- Begin with a problem your donor can, and wants to, solve. Unless you describe something compelling that resonates with your reader, you’re sunk before you’ve begun.
- Be clear what solution you’re offering, and why you’re uniquely suited to do so. What does your organization do differently, and especially well? Begin with a problem the donor can solve.
- Be emotional. Your readers don’t care about facts as much as they care about drama. Tell a compelling story. Give your readers a reward for reading. It’s important to always keep in mind that heart trumps mind. One of the key insights discovered in the commercial world is that emotionally satisfied customers are substantially more profitable than rationally satisfied or dissatisfied customers. Help them to feel something that will motivate them to act.
- Instill trust; demonstrate that you’ll be a good investment. You can do this by including testimonials from clients or supporters. Or sometimes simply listing the board on your letterhead can accomplish this. And if you have any accreditations or awards (such as a Guidestar 4-star rating) it’s great to subtly include this on the letterhead. Finally, letting readers know how many people you helped last year is a good idea. Just don’t overdo it on the numbers and statistics; they should simply supplement the story or stories you tell about individual people.
- Include a clear, upfront compelling call to action. What exactly do you want your donor to do? Just remember: you aren’t asking for money because you want money. Or because your organization wants to grow. You’re asking for a specific amount to implement a specific solution. Help the reader understand the scope of the dollars required to implement the solution. If they give $100, what will that accomplish? What happens if they give $1,000? Relatively few donors today give because it’s the right thing to do. Most donors give to achieve results.
- Don’t pussyfoot. Ask in the first few paragraphs. Sure you can, and should, ask again at the end. But don’t wait that long. Whatever you do, don’t bury your ask in what Jeff Brooks of Future Fundraising Now calls the dead zone (the upper to middle paragraphs of the last page of your letter).
- Take advantage of the P.S. This is often the second thing the reader looks at, after the salutation. 90% read the P.S. first according to oft-quoted research from Professor Siegfried Vogel’s eye-tracking studies. It’s a good place to summarize a key point in the letter. One tip is to write your letter; then take a good look at it and pull out your most important message and move it to the P.S. to assure it’s seen. You can also keep it in the body of the letter (using slightly different wording, of course, so you don’t bore your readers to death). When it comes to your key message, repetition is a good thing. It could be the reason why you’re asking for a gift now. It could be the specific amount/project for which you’re asking. It should be specific and compelling and speak to why a donor would want to invest with you right away.
- Create a sense of urgency. Why must the donor give NOW? Give some real thought to this.
- Entice people to read the important parts of the letter. Good direct mail is designed to be skimmed. Eye motion studies show most folks read in a particular pattern from upper right to the salutation… to the signature (which is why who signs the letter is important – who’s signing it?)… to the P.S…. then back up to any illustrations… then to the subheads… then to the bullets and underlines… then, if you’re lucky, to the entire letter.
- Show gratitude. If your donor has given before, remind them. Show them your appreciation. Tell them they made an impact. People are inclined to repeat their past behaviors, so remind them. If this is a prospective donor, thank them in advance. Flatter them by assuming they are caring and generous. People want to act on their finer qualities and better nature.
- Use “You” instead of “I”. “You” and “your” are emotional triggers. The letter should be about the donor and what they will accomplish through their investment. It’s not about how wonderful you and your organization are. The donor must feel he/she is vitally important. This is especially important in the opening paragraph where you want to draw the reader in. It has to be about them.
- Use conversational English. This means short sentences (no more than 10 words) and paragraphs (no more than four to seven lines), contractions, conjunctions at the beginning of sentences, prepositions at the end of sentences, action verbs, not too many adjectives and adverbs and fragments. Read your letter aloud. If it sounds stilted, rewrite.
- Avoid “organization–speak”, jargon or labels. Always think from the perspective of the reader. You use words like “clients” and “caseworkers”; your readers don’t. Maybe everyone who works where you work has a PhD and is a stickler for grammar. Your readers aren’t. Maybe you love learning a great big new word every day, then figuring out ways to use it. Your readers won’t.
- Include sub-heads, bullets, bold face, italics, underlining and indented paragraphs to break up copy and call attention to key points. Most people don’t start at the beginning and read straight through to the end. If they read just the headline, they should get the gist. Just the boldface? They should get the gist. Just the italics? They should get the gist. I like to write letters, within letters, within letters.
- Use simple, legible fonts. I know you know that serif fonts are best for text (e.g., Courier, Garamond or Times Roman); sans serif is best for headlines and sub-heads. But did you know 14 point text is now recommended given the graying of our population?
- Indent paragraphs. Not only is this a friendlier style (something I learned in middle school typing class), it also invites the readers into your copy and gives their eyes another little rest. Our brains use indents in “pattern recognition.” Pattern recognition is important to keep reading speedy. And, remember, your reader has no time.
- Use black or dark blue on white paper. You want the letter to be easy on the eyes.
- Take advantage of a compelling photo or photos. A picture (with a caption) truly is worth 1,000 words.
- Add a hand-written note. Hoping this is part of your plan! I’ve found this to boost returns from as little as 2% to 20% with current donors. Ask board members, volunteers and staff to review your lists and agree to take on assignments.
Guidelines for Your Remit Piece:
Your reply device is an in-a-nutshell mini-appeal. Everything your donor really needs to know should be included here. Why? Often folks throw out the letter and save the response piece for later. When they come back to it, it better inspire them to follow through on their good intentions!
- Include a compelling photo that tells your story. Headshots are usually the best; people relate best to one person that needs help. Try to repeat a photo from your appeal letter so the package fits together as a whole.
- Restate the theme/thesis of the appeal.
- Make a clear ask for a specific amount (or range) that is within the realm of possibility (or sensibility) for this prospective donor. Ideally you’d have two separate remits, one for lower-end and one for higher-end prospects. A range of $50 – $5,000 on one remit is not ideal, if you can avoid it. If you’re sending to a brand new prospect, asking for such a huge range is probably going to be confusing at best and offensive at worst. If you’re sending to a $500 donor, then it’s great to include some larger amounts on the reply device; but don’t go down to $50. And you probably shouldn’t send a request for $5,000 in the mail; that’s a face-to-face appeal.
- Offer some choices for ‘earmarking’ to specific programs. Simply break down your ‘unrestricted giving’ into large buckets that are more donor-centric than simply “give money.” For example, if you work for a human services organization, designations for “senior services,” “children’s services,” and “adult services” are natural options. And the gifts will be as close as they can get to unrestricted giving, assuming you do a reasonable amount of service in each of these areas.
- Restate the urgency of giving right away. If you have a matching grant, be sure to mention it with the date it expires. Same thing with a program on the brink of closing.
- Include contact information (e.g. your website URL and a name/phone number) in case they require additional information before coming to a decision. Something like “for more information, or to make a stock gift, please contact…”
Follow these rules, and you’re sure to create a compelling offer your donor can’t refuse!
Do you have any tips I missed? Please share in the comments below.
Want More Annual Appeal Help?
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Image via Artists for a Pristine Planet.