The cursor blinks, daring you to give up.
Your hands are poised, willing your brain to direct them.
And the page is still blank.
Are you working on a spring appeal?
Finding it hard to come up with something new?
I have some good news for you: you might be making this harder than it needs to be.
Keep this in mind: it’s rare anyone reads your appeals as closely as you do. Or remembers what they’ve read.
That’s no dig at you. Your donors have busy lives.
They have only so much attention to give.
If you’re lucky, they read your appeal. If you’re very lucky (and good), they respond.
(Yes, there is always that one person who finds your typos and grammatical mistakes and informs you of every one. But that’s not most of your readers.)
The other important thing to remember (and it’s connected) is this: just when you are sick and tired of everything you’ve been saying, that’s when your message is starting to get through.
It’s old to you; to them, it’s consistent.
And consistent is good. It builds trust.
So the good news: maybe you don’t have to start from scratch.
If you’ve written appeals that have done well in the past, you might be able to do a bit of freshening up instead.
Start with what you’ve done
Begin with your past appeals. Note which ones performed the best.
Dig deeper… why do you think they did well?
(This is why keeping good records of your past appeals matters so much. Track each solicitation for the amount raised, the average gift, and the response rate. The more detail you keep, the more information you’ll have to work with now.)
Remember, there are more variables than your text. Some you control, some you don’t. Your cause might have been in the news. Or your list might have been slightly different for that appeal. But there’s still value in your history.
Look at your performance by segments. Did the appeal do well with any particular group of donors? Why?
Was the ask amount just right? Did you touch on something meaningful to your audience?
Be a detective: learn from your own history.
Then pick a couple of strong appeals
Instead of staring at a blank page, begin with the old appeals.
Pull out the language you think was particularly effective. (Don’t worry now about fitting it together – you’ll do that in a bit.)
Then copy it onto your new page. (No longer blank!)
Freshen up a bit
You’ve already pulled the messaging you think is effective. Now you can make the letter new again with a few changes.
Write a new opening, response form headline, and P.S.
(It doesn’t have to be radically new if your offer is the same. But if you’re like me, you’ll look at old work – even very successful old work – and find ways to make it even better.)
These will be the parts of the letter most likely to be read. So give them lots of attention. They’re key – and they should go together.
And yes, this is the hardest part of writing your appeal. Treat the task with the importance it deserves.
Those three things are your appeal, abbreviated. Make them great.
Add a new story
If your appeals have been performing well over time, chances are you’ve already developed some consistent messages.
But you can enliven old messaging with a new story that illustrates your case.
This is another area where preparation as a habit will pay off for you.
Do you have a story bank? Are you eagerly collecting stories throughout the year?
If you haven’t been doing that, start now. Spend some time with your organization’s clients, or talking to audience members, or sitting down with program staff. The stories are already there – you need to collect them.
Tie the story to the opening, headline, and P.S. you’ve just written. Dive into the emotion of it – don’t get clinical.
Dive into the emotion of it – don’t get clinical.
Put it all together
Now is when you fit the pieces together – like a puzzle.
- Does the story work with the opening? (If not, rework one.)
- Does the messaging you liked from a past appeal make sense with this new open and story? (If not, edit it until it does.)
- Does it all flow?
- Are you making the points you need to make?
- Are you asking often enough throughout the appeal – and asking for the most important thing?
Discard what doesn’t work. Bolster what does.
Then put it aside
Ask a co-worker, or better yet, someone who has nothing to do with your organization, to read it. Does it make sense to them?
(I often find something at this stage that doesn’t. It did, in my head, because I’d been reading all those other appeals.)
Review it in a day or so. You’ll see things with new eyes. Make changes as needed.
See? It wasn’t that hard after all, was it?