Last week, I wrote about your fundraising appeal and offered some steps to improve it. This week, with part two, we’ll pick up where we left off.
Here’s what I want to share in both posts:
- Where to start
- The critical role emotion plays – and how to use it
- How to grab attention right from the start
- How to design your appeal to make it most effective
- Often missed ingredients for success
- Why an appeal is more than a letter
- Why a print appeal is worth the expense
- How to combine digital media with print to get the most from your appeal
Often missed ingredients for success
You have to actually ask.
Yes, your story is not, by itself, enough. Use it to illustrate what you want the reader to do. How they can be a hero. But don’t be coy. Ask for help. Ask often.
Start early in the letter. This can be a bit softer. But keep the chorus going – and growing – throughout the appeal. Be specific. What exactly do you want the reader to do?
Please send $125 dollars today to feed a family of four for the month.
Your gift of $25 will buy school supplies for a child for this fall. Please send it today.
Don’t talk about “hoping you will help” unless it’s attached to a specific ask. With a dollar amount.
Along with emotion, urgency is your other necessary ingredient.
If you ask for help, but there’s no sense you need help NOW, why would a reader interrupt their own life to write you a check?
They must feel the need is urgent. That they are needed NOW.
Find reasons why, if those aren’t immediately apparent.
We have 204 families who won’t have enough food in May, unless you help today.
School is starting in a few weeks. Please don’t let a child like Susie go without the supplies she needs to succeed. Please send your gift today.
You need a P.S.
This is another secret weapon. Why? Eye-tracking studies show that when people open a letter they look at the address block and salutation (is this for me?). Then they flip it over to look at who wrote it. And read the P.S.
If they read nothing else, they will likely read the P.S.
Shrink your appeal into this. A sentence about the key part of the story. A sentence about how the reader can help. A specific ask.
DO NOT introduce something new here. Your upcoming event. Your desire for more Facebook followers. Your postscript isn’t an afterthought – it’s crucial.
Your appeal is not just a letter
We’ve been talking about the appeal letter and how to write it. But your appeal is much more than the letter.
So if you haven’t already, write your response device now.
You need: a great YES statement. Which is also a headline.
You need a specific ask. (Think about your gift string.)
And it all needs to be of a piece with your appeal. (Don’t order those one-size fits all flap envelope things. Not worth the money you’ll lose.)
I suggest a full-size page for the response. So you have room for a great LARGE headline. So you have room for a great, emotional image. So you have room for a personal ask. And so you can print any information you already have. The less the donor needs to do, the better.
Your goal should be to move the donor to act, then do everything you can short of signing her check yourself.
You’re still not done. Your outer envelope is important. It’s what stands between your amazing appeal and the recycle bin.
Think about how you can stand out. Different color? Different size? Handwriting on it? A teaser?
(My advice: Don’t use a teaser unless you’re absolutely convinced it’s a killer. They telegraph “junk mail” too often.)
Use live stamps (you can get nonprofit stamps. Donors won’t notice or care that they’re not first-class).
You’re still not done – thank you matters
One more thing. Write your thank you letter now.
Now, while you’re immersed in the emotion and message of the appeal. While the reason you’re asking for help is right there, beating in your heart. Pour all of those feelings into a thank you.
Make it personal – one person to one person. No one cares about your board of directors, so don’t write on behalf of anyone. What would you write to a friend who just sent your organization a gift?
Is print worth it?
There’s a reason I’ve been referring mostly to print appeals. That’s because direct mail still outperforms digital – by a mile. It’s easy to think email is free. But you will still be putting time into creating something. And if few people actually read it… that’s wasted time.
Response rates for direct mail vs email
According to the 2018 DMA Response Rate Report, direct mail response rates come in at 9% to a house list and 5% to a prospect list. The 2017 report showed a response rate of 5.1% to a house list and 2.9% to a prospect list, and the average between 2003 and 2015 was 3.6% to a house list and 1.6% to a prospect list. It also runs laps around any other channel, even if you combined the response rates of all of them. For comparison, email has a 1% response rate to a house list and 1% to a prospect list.
But, do you know what’s even better? Use both, together. With the same overall message. (Repetition is a good thing.)
Send an email before your mailing hits, letting people know to look for it. Send a follow up a week after the mail hits to ask people if they saw it. Just keep the communication focused on the same message. The same story. The same ask.
You can write an effective appeal. It’s not all magic and sprinkles. Mostly, an effective appeal is about writing from the heart. And following a few simple and proven guidelines.
It takes practice, but every improvement you make will help.