In this episode of Nonprofit Answers, you will learn how to write a great fundraising appeal. Though there isn’t a perfect formula for a charity fundraising appeal, Jeremy walks through a proven formula that will get you results. Writing great fundraising direct marketing is part science and part art, but with this step by step process, you’ll be writing fundraising letters that will raise more money for your organization.
There isn’t a perfect formula for a great fundraising appeal. Writing fundraising appeals, it’s part art, it’s part science. Today I’m going to show you a formula for a successful fundraising appeal. It’s not the only way to write a great fundraising appeal, but it does give you a good starting point. As I mentioned, there’s no perfect formula for it, but there are some really good formulas out there that will help write some fundraising appeals that really make an impact and raise some good money for your organization.
This podcast episode is a part of a series that I’m creating for my daughter Emily. Emily told me that she’s interested in what I do, and so I’m creating a couple of episodes teaching her about what nonprofit fundraisers do. This is going to be a great fundraising episode for you and for her.
You’ll learn a proven formula for writing a fundraising appeal that has decades of proof behind it. As I mentioned, it’s not the only way to write a well-performing fundraising appeal, but it is a really good formula for writing one. You could use this technique to write a great appeal in email, in mail, on a landing page, in a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. There are so many great options for using this framework.
Now I’m going to walk through … There’s 14 parts of this formula, so it is pretty long. I’m going to walk through all of them now, and then I’m going to go into detail on each one in this episode. First, grab the reader’s attention in the opening. Second, tell a compelling story. Third, ask for a gift early and often. Fourth, tell what the gift will accomplish. Fifth, be personal. Six, write with urgency. Number seven, highlight your volunteers. Number eight, create a permission to believe. Number nine, describe the needs that are yet to be met. Number 10, offer hope. 11, demonstrate appreciation. 12, help the reader feel satisfied with giving. 13, demonstrate past successes. And 14, present a permanent solution. Let’s walk through each of these 14 steps to write a great appeal.
First, you have to grab the reader’s attention in the opening. Most readers will decide within a few seconds if they want to finish reading your appeal. Since you have so little time to grab someone’s attention, you need to write a strong opening that builds a desire in the reader to continue reading.
Let me give you an example of how you could use this in an appeal. Imagine if you open a fundraising appeal for a foster agency like this. “Her bright pink jacket stood out. Against the backdrop of the commotion, her bright pink jacket made her look out of place. She has all of her belongings crammed into a black plastic bag as she climbed into a car, ready to be driven away from this chaos.”
You want to write something that grabs the reader’s attention. It doesn’t have to describe a story necessarily. It could be something as simple as, “You have a chance to save one child’s life tonight.” The copy needs to be something that compels the reader to keep reading. What this will do is this will draw people into your appeal and get them finished reading the appeal so that they’ll want to give you money.
Second, you need to write a compelling story that you will build your appeal around. With that opening that we just gave you about this little girl in this jacket, that could be an appeal for a foster agency and really tell a story of this child and what she went through for this foster agency. You want to tell a compelling story about one person, one beneficiary, that your organization helped. Telling the story of the one, it really helps someone emotionally connect to a beneficiary that they can help.
It’s unfortunate, but in large situations where we have thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people that need help, telling the statistics around the cause don’t really get a lot of donations. That’s because people need to be sold on the emotions of the story. When they’re sold on the emotions of the story, the facts and the statistics, they really help reinforce their decision to give. You want to tell a compelling story to draw them into your appeal and to really want to give so that they can connect with that one person that they can help.
Third, you need to ask for a gift early and often. When you get a really well-written fundraising appeal as a professional in the business, you might read an appeal and you might see that there’s three or four different times in that appeal that the writer is asking for money. You might think, “Is that too much? Can’t you just ask once and get the point across of the need?” The answer is no. The reason is that people don’t read like we do. They don’t read an appeal from front to end. People jump around. They might jump down to the PS. They might read the entire thing. They might read at the beginning, jump to the end, come back, read the middle, jump to the end again. They might just start in the middle. You never know the flow of how people are going to read your appeal, so you want to give them multiple opportunities that you ask for the gift and that you ask early in the appeal and that you ask often in the appeal.
There’s one more thing in this, is that when you’re asking for a gift, you need to be very clear about what you’re asking for. When you say something like, “Will you please give us your support?”, that’s not really clear. It doesn’t use language that says exactly what you’re asking for, which is a donation of money. “Your $75 gift right now will help three children this Christmas season that don’t have a family to call home to.” Things like that where you can really be specific in your ask so that there isn’t confusion. When you say support, some people’s definition of support may be different than your definition of support.
Fourth, tell what the gift will accomplish. Be very specific when you say in your appeal what you’re raising money for what that money’s going to be used for. Let’s imagine that this was a disaster response and you’re asking for a gift of $25, $50, or $100 for the disaster response. Tell them what that gift of $25, $50, or $100 is going to go towards. “Your $50 gift will provide emergency shelter and emergency supplies to somebody in need in this earthquake situation.” Language like that will be very specific, and it will help the person that’s reading the appeal or hearing the appeal to understand exactly what their donation is going to be used for. People need clarity in that. They need to understand what their gift is going towards.
Be personal in your appeal. People connect to people. When you’re writing an appeal, you want to write it as if you were writing from you to a friend or to somebody asking them for this gift. You don’t want to write it from a large organization’s point of view going out to a large base of donors. It doesn’t work. You want to be very personal in how you address people. You want to call them by their first name. You want to be personal in the content that you put in this appeal. If they’re a major donor that normally gives a $10,000 gift, you don’t want to ask them for $100. You want to be very personal with your appeal so that people can connect to the cause and connect to the person, the beneficiary, that they’re going to be helping in this appeal.
Number six, write with urgency. People need to understand that the need is urgent. If it’s not urgent, why are you raising money for it? It is urgent. Even if it’s not something that’s going to happen for some time, it is an urgent request that you’re writing them about.
Imagine that somebody gets two appeals from similar organizations. In one of them, an organization tells them the urgency of the need for this gift. “It has to come in before this month’s end because if we don’t get this money in, then these people are not going to be helped. They’re not going to be served.” Let’s say the other organization doesn’t explain that urgency. Who do you think the person’s going to give to? They’re going to give to that organization that explained the urgency. The reason is that if they have $100 to give, and they have to choose between an organization that says, “I need it write now” and an organization that doesn’t say that, they’re going to think, “I can give to that other organization later. I need to give to the organization that needs my money right now.” You need to write your appeal with some urgency.
Number seven, highlight your volunteers, highlight the people that help your organization get the work done. There’s a lot of good reasons behind this, but the primary one is that when somebody sees that people are volunteering with an organization, they understand that the commitment of time is much more valuable than their $25 gift. If they see that people are willing to commit time and energy to your organization, then it gives you some foundation that people are willing to invest in you and that people are willing to provide time to your organization that they can trust your organization because you are trustworthy enough that people are willing to commit time and commit their time to help you out. It really provides a level of trust for the donor to know that people are willing to volunteer their time.
Though they may not be able to volunteer or be in a position to volunteer geographically or time-wise, knowing that your organization accepts volunteers, it also provides value to their donation because they see it as a good efficiency use of their donation. When they see your organization as an efficient organization that wisely uses volunteer time, then it provides value in their mind that your organization is very efficient and going to do the most with their dollar that they could possibly find from the organization.
Number eight, create a permission to believe. This phrase, permission to believe, is one that really builds in the donor, in the potential donor, the feeling that they can make a difference with this donation. When you tell someone that there’s 50,000 people that are going to bed hungry, they have a hard time believing that their gift of $50 or $100 or even $500 is going to make a difference to 50,000 people. When you tell the story of one person, one family that needs this gift now in order to be able to feed their children so that they can not go to bed hungry, then that person has the permission to believe that their gift is going to make a big difference. Don’t discount the idea of statistics in your appeal. They do have their place, and it’s more on the convincing someone that there is a large enough problem that they can give money to to solve, but do include language that allows people to believe that they can make a difference, that their donation is going to make a difference in solving the problem.
Number nine, describe the needs that are yet to be met. When you’re telling your story in the appeal about a problem solve, and you’re telling of a success story of somebody that you did help, and you don’t connect that to the needs that are yet to be met, then people may feel like the loop has been closed in their mind that this problem is on a path to be solved. You don’t want people believing that the problem is solved because if it’s a problem that’s solved, they don’t need to donate because you’ve already solved the problem. It’s a cycle that you really need to break by explaining the number of people that you’re going to help and what kind of impact their donation is going to make, how many people they’re going to help with their donation. All of these things help people to understand the needs that have yet to be met, that there are needs that their donation is going to go towards, that their donation will help solve the problem. If you’ve already closed the loop on the problem, they don’t have a problem to solve, so they won’t donate to you.
Number 10, offer hope to the donor. Tell them that this problem can be solved. Part of our mantra at Food for the Hungry, part of who we are, is we want to end poverty, that we want to end hunger. We know that that’s a huge statement to make, that we want to end hunger, but we know it’s something that can be done, that can be done in our lifetime, if we continue to work towards it. We want people to know that there is hope, that there is opportunity to save these lives. Tell them a story of a beneficiary that you guys did help, and then explain that need of the things that are yet to be met. In that story, offer the donor hope that there is a solution to this problem and that they are that solution.
When you offer them that hope that they are that solution, then they’re going to want to give you money because they’re going to feel good about that donation. At the end of the day, most donors, they want to feel good about that donation, and that’s the reason they’re giving, so that they can feel good. You want to provide hope to them so that they do feel like they accomplished something with their donation. When you don’t provide that hope and you tell them of these dire situations that seem to have no end, then people are going to stop giving to you over time because they’re not going to feel like they’re accomplishing what they want to accomplish with their donation. They want to solve a problem. When you offer hope, then you’re offering a way for them to solve a problem.
Number 11, demonstrate appreciation. You want to show thankfulness for your donors. It’s not just in the thank you note that you send after the donation, but you want to show appreciation in the appeal that they’re willing to take time to read that appeal and consider donating to your organization and effectively donating to this cause to these beneficiaries. Within the language that you use within your appeal, you want to demonstrate appreciation and thankfulness to people when they have this opportunity to give.
Number 12, help the reader feel satisfied with giving. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t want people to close the loop on this donation, meaning that you don’t want to open up a story loop and talk about the great need and then basically, through the language, tell them that this need has already been met because it hasn’t. You want to leave that story loop open so that when they give, that they haven’t completely closed the loop, but that they have started to close that loop by giving. Then you complete the loop, the story loop, through the impact reporting that you send back after the problem has been solved or after the project is complete. You’re continually opening these story loops, allowing people to participate in the closure of these story loops, and then closing them with impact reports after the fact. As a part of your appeal, you want to have the reader really feel satisfied that they gave. You want them to feel joy in their gift. You want them to feel like their gift made a difference in order to solve this problem that you’re trying to solve.
13, demonstrate past success. Within your appeal, again, as I mentioned, you don’t want to close the loop entirely, that you’ve solved a problem, but you want to demonstrate that you’re an organization that can solve this problem. Let’s imagine that your a shelter and it’s the holidays and it’s getting cold out, so you’re trying to raise money to increase the capacity to take in more people that need shelter during the holidays. You want to talk through … Within the appeal itself, you want to tell a story of successes that you’ve made, let’s say, last holiday season with the donor’s help. You can talk about, “Last year, you and people like you gave $100,000 in order for us to expand our support to 1,000 new people during the holiday season to provide much needed shelter.”
By demonstrating these past successes and things that you have accomplished, it provides some trustworthiness and some transparency to people to know that you are an organization that does good with the money, that you’ve been able to do this successfully in the past. A lot of donors, at the end of the day, really want to know that their donation is being effective and efficient. Effectiveness is a measurement of how successful that you’ve been in the past.
Then finally, present a permanent solution to the problem. Donors want to know that, in a lot of situations, that the solution that they’re providing is one that’s of permanence. At Food for the Hungry, one of the things that we do is we talk a lot about community graduation. Our goal is to get into a community to find out what they need in order to graduate in about 10 years, to graduate them from extreme poverty, to lift them out of poverty, and for us to actually leave that community. In our fundraising, we want to talk about ways in which the donor is offering a permanent solution to these communities and not just a handout. We want to hand up, not just a handout.
In your appeal, when you present permanent solutions to people, then they’re more willing to invest in your nonprofit with their donation because they’re seeing a potential success story. They’re seeing an organization that solves a problem, and it solves in a permanent way, not in a temporary way or in a way that creates this kind of dependency on your organization for survival. People don’t want dependency. They want solutions, like at Food for the Hungry where we graduate communities. They want a solution that’s going to be permanent.
Thanks for joining me as we walked through these 14 steps to writing a great fundraising appeal. There’s a lot more that you can put in, you can add in, you can take away in order to write a good fundraising appeal. These are 14 steps that’ve really been proven over time as a good formula for a successful fundraising appeal. As I mentioned earlier, there’s no perfect formula. There’s a lot of really good ones out there. Writing fundraising definitely isn’t just science, but there’s a ton of science behind it. There’s also art to it. The art really comes through in how you tell that story and how you weave it together so that the donor feels like they’re making an impact with this donation, that there’s work still yet to be done, but that their donation is going to have a great impact on the people that you support through your good work.
I appreciate your time today. Thanks so much for joining me in this episode of Nonprofit Answers. Take care.