People donate to nonprofits for many reasons ranging from wanting to make a difference in the world to simply gaining tax benefits. But when asking people for their hard-earned money, you must engage your reader. There are five important areas you mustn’t ignore. These are the foundation of any effective fundraising effort.
1. EMPHASIZE BENEFITS NOT NEEDS – People don’t give money to organizations. They give money to people. They want to feel that because of what they’re giving some good is happening to someone.
Certainly, donors understand organizations have needs, but they look beyond that. To them the organization is merely a conduit to what’s really important. Will lives be saved? Will a child’s hope in the future be restored? Will the dignity of elders be preserved?
As far as your concerned, your needs take second place in the minds of donors and the message you send is that all the credit for the wonderful results you bring about goes to the donor.
Whether it’s a donation of money or time, donors need to feel they are on the front lines doing something about a problem they feel strongly about. Feeling important.
Picture your sentences ending with the statement “thanks to you”. Being the one who makes things happen is what the reader wants to feel.
And remember, donors are individuals, not part of a herd. Write as though you’re speaking to one particular person. Use “you” a lot.
2. SPEND PLENTY OF TIME CREATING A GOOD LEAD – Research has shown that the lead has the highest readership than any other element except the PS and the envelope copy. This makes sense.
How many times do you read the first few paragraphs of novels or articles in magazines before deciding which one to buy? If the beginning fails to grab you chances are you move on to something else.
The lead is a promise. It says, here’s what you can expect. It had better be something the reader can connect with. Don’t disappoint. Otherwise it becomes junk mail with the predictable result.
Leads can take various forms. They can be anecdotal relating a real life incident, state a startling fact, create a picture, give a powerful quote, or ask an open-ended question.
What you don’t want to do is start with facts about your organization and its mission. That you do subtly throughout the letter.
And, if possible, have the close of your letter relate to the lead. It’s a nice finishing touch that leaves the reader feeling a sense of completeness.
3. ADD A PS – You make think your letter has done it all, and it probably has. But the letter isn’t the first thing the potential donor reads.
They’ve already read the envelope copy, if there is any, and glanced at the letter’s signature. Then they look at the PS. Why not. It’s short, and deep down we all feel there’s something especially important there, something the writer wants to make sure you know.
So this is the place to repeat your ask, communicate urgency, restate benefits, or convey the strongest element of the appeal. Any premiums can be mentioned again.
The PS is one of your first contacts with the reader and it needs to draw them to the letter. Think of it as the lead to the lead.
4. ASK FOR AN ACTION – Remember, this is what the letter is all about. All that research and careful writing leads to this. It shouldn’t be an afterthought.
Your whole letter has passionately engaged the reader in your appeal, don’t come up short by shyly asking for money, gifts, or help. You’ve gone nowhere if a reader connects with your cause but doesn’t pull out the checkbook.
And don’t just ask once. Try, though, to put it in personal terms. Speak to that one person out there about how the contribution aids another person.
You aren’t helping to build a hospital, you’re relieving someone’s suffering. The money isn’t just buying computers, it’s giving a child a chance to be a better student.
Try to find a genuine reason why gifts are needed right away. Ask for specific amounts and be sure to make it easy for the reader to reply.
5. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE – It’s possible to take the scatter-shot approach and meet with some success. Send out enough mailings and someone is bound to reply positively. But this isn’t always very cost-effective.
Far better to send a letter to someone already disposed to your cause or one similar to it. People who give to animal rights causes might be more likely to donate to safeguarding our waterways.
Also, the more a person is familiar with your organization, the more likely they are to donate. In this way, obtaining targeted lists is important. Finding individuals who fit very specific criteria, such as geographic area, income, and interests can enhance your chances of success.
It’s also important that the appeals letter talk about what’s important to the donor. If you’re sending a letter to previous donors there’s no need to rehash information they already know.
You need to speak to what is relevant to them, taking them from where they are now to a new level. Donors with heart disease don’t need to be educated about it. What they want is an information source that will improve their lives.
It’s a lot easier to preach to the choir. You just need to find the members of that group. Always be sure you know who’s getting your letter – major donors, loyal donors, regular donors, or prospects? The type of letter you write will depend on it.
About the Author
Joseph Yenkavitch is a freelance copywriter specializing in ghostwriting. He has published a novel, short stories, articles, and poetry.
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