Raising funds for needed items, foods, and services is the lifeblood of any nonprofit organization. Yet many organizations struggle with the staple of a successful fundraiser – the appeal. Your fundraising appeal needs to hit home with your audience, cutting through the clutter in their inboxes to make a real impact. Your appeal needs to state your purpose, engage readers, and have a clear and compelling call-to-action. It ultimately needs to express why readers should donate to your cause, and why they should do so right now.

The five Cs of fundraising appeals will help you reach your target audience and express the importance of giving a donation. Implement these five Cs while writing your appeals letter, and optimize the success of your next campaign.

This is an excerpt from a chapter in my book, Raise More Money with Email, that teaches you how to write great fundraising emails.

#1: Clear

Your audience may receive hundreds of emails per day soliciting them for their information, time, or money. In the world of email campaigns, it takes a powerful message to really hit home. The most powerful messages are clear and to the point – they don’t beat around the bush or hide behind vague or ambiguous wording. Make your message very clear to the reader, including what you’re asking for and the action you want him or her to take. A clear message is the only way to ensure your audience will understand what you need and how to help.

Clarity is your friend in the fundraising appeal email. Clarity can create an appropriate sense of urgency in your message. Nonprofits often try to connect with readers or grab attention by being cute or funny. When it comes to raising money, these tactics may fall flat and can hurt your chances of success. To convince readers to support your cause, your appeal needs to be straightforward and crystal clear to a wide audience.

This isn’t to say it needs to be boring and only full of cold, hard facts; it needs to maintain clarity. Try new techniques to stand out from the crowd, but make sure your efforts don’t cloud your case. Readers want to have a clear idea of what your organization is, what cause it supports, and how they help right now. Otherwise, they will not feel comfortable donating money.

So how do you improve the clarity of an appeal?

To make your message as clear as possible, create an outline of your piece. Planning your appeal ahead of time will help you stay on track and avoid including unnecessary information. Identify the major points your email needs to make:

  1. Who you are. Use the full name of your organization or the name of a real person at your organization. Avoid “Do Not Reply” styles of emails, as readers are more likely to delete these without opening them.
  2. What you want. Clarity is never as important as it is in the subject line. Be clear about what your message contains, using short and compelling text. Within the email, clearly describe what you’re asking of the reader. Ambiguous text here can make your organization seem suspicious, as if the money won’t really go to what you say it will.
  3. How the reader can help. This is perhaps the most important place to be clear with your appeal – don’t leave room for any confusion on the reader’s part about what he or she can do to help your cause today. If you’re asking for signatures on a petition, end with a clear call to action and a direct link to the petition. If you need donations, make the process clear and simple. For example, link the text “Donate now” to the webpage where the reader can go through an easy and secure donation process.

There should be no ambiguity in your email appeal. Don’t use any jargon or slang that a wide audience won’t be able to understand. Failure to keep your message clear can lead to costly miscommunications. It can hurt your organization’s reputation if your readers take your ambiguity as a sign of you’re hiding something. It’s easy to hedge around asking for what you need, so avoid that temptation. If you want to try new things, make sure they don’t ruin the clarity of your piece.

#2: Concise

Being concise goes hand-in-hand with clarity, but they are two very distinct qualities. Being clear means expressing your message without any room for miscommunication, while being concise means eliminating unnecessary fluff or filler. If you aren’t sure what “fluff” and “filler” are, think about the last email appeal you deleted without donating. Odds are the email included lines such as, “Are you ready for springtime? We are too! Here’s how you can make springtime brighter for …” or “Our organization loves making people smile. You can help us make others smile by …”

This type of writing is unnecessary and serves only as fluff to fill the page. While writing a fundraising appeal, keep your text concise. Eliminate any paragraphs, phrases, and individual words you don’t need. Your audience is not interested in watching you fill the page. Instead, they want to read what you have to say in as few words as possible.

Writing shorter, more concise appeals may seem easier than composing a sprawling narrative, but staying concise can be the most difficult part of writing and editing an appeal. Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher, summed it up well in a letter he wrote. In English, his words translate: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” It takes time and work to write a concise fundraising appeal. Here are a few tips to make the task easier:

  • Use active voice. Active voice makes your writing more concise and compelling to readers. Example of passive voice: Did you know one donation means 1,000 starving children are being fed? See how much more powerful an active voice is: Did you know with one donation, you could feed 1,000 starving children? It contains less filler and puts the power into the reader’s hands – “you” can fix this.
  • Eliminate most instances of “that.” In many cases, cutting this word can make your appeal flow better. Example: Every dollar that you contribute will help feed starving children.
  • Cut unneeded phrases and expressions. Example: Did you know thousands of kids are starving right now and that your one donation feeds 1,000 starving children? The sentence is repetitive. Trim your writing to product concise and clear appeals.

Go through your appeal email before sending and try to eliminate anything unnecessary to convey your message. Concise appeals are elegant, simple, and forthright. They do not waste the reader’s time or confuse the meaning of the appeal with unnecessary text. Most of all, they are effective at capturing the audience’s attention and holding it until the call-to-action.

#3: Connect the Dots

Donors often don’t give based on logic. Instead, donors give when they emotionally connect with a cause or beneficiary’s story. You must engender this emotional connection with your fundraising appeal. Connecting with a wide audience emotionally can be tricky unless you engage the heart of your fundraiser. The goal of your fundraiser is to help a cause. Use your cause as the inspiration to write a passionate, riveting, and honest appeal for help.

An effective fundraising appeal tells a story. It describes the backdrop of your fundraiser with emotionally charged words and compelling imagery. Use multiple channels, such as videos and infographics, to create a connection with your audience. Tell your story in whatever way you need, but keep one thing in mind – it must be authentic. Readers must feel your sense of immediacy and compassion in your appeal. Your job as the messenger is: be convincing. Being genuine is the best way to accomplish this.

While writing your story, create connection points for readers to see how they can become a hero. This is the turning point for your email appeal. Now it’s time to make the reader understand how he or she can help – for example, by donating, joining an event, or sharing the fundraiser with others. Your nonprofit organization becomes a tool the hero uses to change lives. Use words such as “We can’t do it without you,” or “Help us reach our goal” to convey that, without the donor’s contribution, your organization’s mission will fail.

Your story is the crux of your fundraiser – the element that captures reader interest and secures donations. Storytelling leads to more donations simply because the story addresses the part of a person that’s most generous – the heart. Tailoring your appeal to the emotions of your readers will demonstrate the urgency of your mission, playing on the readers’ heartstrings to get your point across. This taps into a reader’s generosity and giving spirit.

Storytelling is not the same thing as making up stories. You should never lie about your cause, make up facts, or dishonestly dramatize your tale. This will only serve to hurt your organization – possibly irreparably. Instead, take the real facts of your cause and tell them in a way that grabs attention. Here are three storytelling tips for your appeal:

  • Whittle down your story to something your readers can relate to. As an organization, you’re used to thinking about your cause on the grand scale. For your fundraising appeal, boil it down to something simpler – one single person your organization has helped, for example. By focusing on something that the audience can relate to, like 6-year-old Belle who now has hope for her a future thanks to your organization, the appeal audience can get a better understanding of what their donation will do.
  • Aim for the heart. Your story should be more than informative. At its core, there should be emotion that impacts the reader. Your appeal should play on readers’ emotions, whether it’s through humor, sadness, or hope for the future, to encourage them to espouse your fundraiser. If your appeal captures an emotion that resonates with your readers, they will also share your content with others.
  • Tell a clear story. While your piece should be emotional, it shouldn’t read like a stream-of-consciousness email. It should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Think about the structure of your favorite stories – it likely introduces a character, describes some problem or obstacle the character faces, and has a climax in which the problem is resolved. In your story, your reader should be the hero who swoops in and resolves the problem in the climax. You are presenting the climax to the reader – it is up to them whether the problem will have a resolution, and the character, a happy ending.

When you open your readers’ hearts to your cause, giving them a connection to you, they open their wallets. It’s a tried-and-true fact that organizations have used again and again with great success. Use your story to hook readers and pique their curiosity, using text, photos, and/or videos. Once you’ve hooked their attention and made an emotional connection, it’s only a matter of time before they act to help your cause.

#4: Convenient

Many fundraising appeals fail simply because the donor can’t figure out how to donate. This may seem like a jarring oversight, but many organizations have trouble making the donation process convenient enough to entice interested donors. Do not redirect your donor to multiple sites before reaching the donation page or instruct the user to perform an action without providing a direct link to the action. Make the donation process simple, fast, and as easy as possible. This will reduce the odds of missing out on donations.

If you make giving easy, the reader is more likely to make a gift. An effective fundraising appeal makes it very convenient for the reader to donate. This may be with a direct link to the donations page or links connected to specific donation amounts. Then, the reader simply has to click on the amount and immediately go through the simple, secure checkout process. The fewer hoops the reader has to go through, the higher the chances are of securing donations. Any sort of friction in the process could stop the donation in its track, even if your appeal worked flawlessly.

Tips for making the checkout process as convenient as possible include creating a brightly colored button with a simple phrase such as, “Make your donation now” or “Give Now.” Don’t hide your call-to-action link/button in the middle of a paragraph or at the very bottom of the page. Include more than one button or link to the donations page. The button should lead directly to the donation checkout page without irritating banners or advertisements in the way. Such busyness can confuse the readers, make them click away, or make them think that your fundraiser is a scam. Accept multiple forms of payment (i.e., Visa, MasterCard, PayPal) through a secure checkout process.

The donor wants to know your site is secure. It isn’t enough to just have a secure lock on the browser; you should also demonstrate your security with icons and statements that provide a feeling of trust for the donor.

#5: Complete

Finally, your fundraising appeal should be complete and self-contained. It should leave the reader with plenty of ways to get more information about the fundraiser or find out how your organization will use his/her individual donation. It should give the information necessary to leave the reader feeling contented, confident, and caring about the success of your fundraiser. Your appeal should tell your story, fuel donations, and spark interest about your organization beyond the fundraiser. Your appeal should be complete in the sense that it gives everything the reader needs to understand the problem, see the solution, and want to become immediately and intimately involved.

As a nonprofit organization, you live and breathe your cause every day. It’s easy to assume the reader knows more about what you do than he or she actually does. Do not leave your readers wanting information – provide ample links, “Contact Us” for information, and other ways to connect in your appeal. For example, include a boilerplate section on the bottom of your email with links to your Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram profiles. This provides a way for readers to explore your organization, connect with you, and learn more about your cause. Invite them to subscribe to blog posts or a newsletter.

You are only in front of the reader when you communicate with him or her. Often, this is only for a few precious seconds. Make the greatest impact by educating your readers without boring them. Knowledge is power – cultivating a following of informed donors can help your cause for years to come, not just through one fundraiser. Your appeal needs to be complete in terms of your current fundraiser and your organization as a whole.

Your fundraising appeal will make or break the success of your efforts. Do not take writing the appeal lightly. Use the five Cs as guideposts for your journey. Create an appeal that is clear and concise, that connects, is convenient, and complete. With these five tips, you can write a fundraising appeal to get across your message in a clear, compelling, and impossible-to-ignore way. Make your audience want to help immediately, click on the call-to-action, and connect to donate without delay. It is possible to secure funds through an email campaign with the right words. Make your prose powerful and poignant, conveying a sense of urgency. With the five Cs, your organization can make all of this, and more, possible.