The job of the smart fundraiser is inspiring passionate philanthropy to make people’s lives better.
I know you’re smart, because you’re reading this article!
But none of us is born with a fundraising gene.
And no one ever really teaches us how to write a smart fundraising appeal. We copy from our predecessors. Or maybe read an article or two online or attend a webinar on the subject. Sadly, there’s a lot of bad advice out there.
The truth is writing a compelling fundraising appeal can be tricky. It’s not the same kind of writing as a brochure, annual report or grant proposal. But it’s not rocket science – it’s something you can easily learn.
Alas, I see too many nonprofits getting this wrong year after year.
A serviceable appeal is something that will raise first-time and habitual gifts at moderate levels. Better than nothing. But… not the best you can do.
Don’t you want to do your best work and invoke the generosity that will move your mission forward with full strength and confidence?
Don’t you want to stop leaving money on the table?
A serviceable appeal won’t inspire passionate, loyal, sustainable philanthropy so your mission can really thrive.
Here are My Top 10 Tips to Passionate Appeal Writing
I hope you’ll use these as an outline as you write your appeal. Or as a checklist if you’ve already completed one.
You can use these tips for all fundraising appeal messaging, not just direct mail. So look also at email, social media, texts, newsletters and website campaign and donation landing page copy.
1. Begin with drama and get right to the point.
Start the letter with one simple attention-grabbing sentence.
“I can’t stop thinking about an 11-year-old girl who nearly killed herself.”
“Isaac is 9 months old and lives on the streets.”
“This dried-up riverbed used to provide water for the entire state.”
“When the ocean dies, we all die.”
2. Lead with easy to read, understandable copy and design.
Readability is directly related to fundraising results. Don’t let your designer get in the way of your fundraising purpose. Donors scan, they don’t read. In fact, famous eye movement studies show where people’s eyes tend to move across a page.
90% read the P.S. first.
Then they look at the salutation, the top right corner (good place for a photo), and the signature.
Then they look at headlines and sub-heads.
In an email they’ll look at the subject line, preview pane and sender.
Make sure all of your most valuable pieces of real estate are used and optimized.
Begin with a compelling photo + caption that immediately conveys a story.
Don’t use white type on a busy photo or background.
Use black text, not blue, brown, grey or whatever your corporate color is (unless it’s to emphasize a point, like a headline or subhead or testimonial).
Highlight important points through headlines, subheads, boldface, underline and italic. Read through the letter looking at each of these elements independently. Do you get the appeal’s gist just through the headings? The boldface? The underlines? The italics? You never really know where your reader’s eyes and attention will focus. Consider you have mini-appeals within your larger appeal. Just in case.
Break copy in the middle of a sentence or paragraph so the reader has a reason to flip the page.
Always, always, always include a P.S.; it’s copywriting malpractice not to do so. They’re one of the most read parts of any letter. As noted above, all the eye-tracking studies show this. And, remember, it’s a “fundraising P.S.” so should be a repetition of the offer – i.e., the specific fundraising call to action with which you began. And the urgency (e.g. what will happen to the beneficiaries if you don’t give right away). You can also include a campaign deadline; just know that’s not as emotionally compelling as a reason related to something bad that will happen to the person, animal, place or thing the donor wants to help.