Let’s be blunt: most fundraising appeals are well-meaning, but crap.
Stuffy. Officious. Impersonal. Focused on the organization’s needs, not the donor’s dreams.
The good news is you can start fixing that today, and I’ll show you how.
This week and next, we’ll cover:
- Where to start
- The critical role emotion plays – and how to use it
- Why you must 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
Where to start?
Before you even think about writing, think about preparing.
What shape is your list in? Have you segmented it to get the most of it?
How about printers and other suppliers? You don’t want to be ready to go and then have to wait.
Have you created a donor persona? You’ll create a better appeal if you understand who you’re writing to.
Do you have a great story to tell? If not, get up and go find one. Your story will be the backbone of your appeal. It will carry the emotion. And the emotion is everything.
Where is your story? The most likely place is with your program staff. Go talk to them. (Make this a habit… you need their trust.) Don’t ask them to “send you a story”. They may not understand what makes a story good. Go talk with them. If possible, ask them to connect you to a beneficiary and talk to them.
As you piece together a story, remember to keep the meaningful details in mind. Your appeal won’t have many words. But it needs the right action, the right details to work.
You’ll know you have the story when you feel the emotion. Are the hairs on your arms standing up? Do you feel a bit goose pimply? Or ready to cry?
Emotion is what you give your donors in return for their help. You are not asking people to think. (Say it with me!) You are asking people to feel.
Time to write
OK, now you’re prepared. And there’s a blank screen in front of you. Time to fill it up.
This may work for you: Try starting with your response form instead of the letter. That’s because the form is the whole appeal, boiled down to its essence.
On the other hand, I usually need several drafts of a letter before those themes and even the exact ask work themselves out.
In either case, do not worry about what you write now.
Just start writing. Write as if you’re telling your best friend or your mom the story you just found. Use conversational language. And put your internal editor in the other room for a while.
FEEL as you write. Don’t waste time thinking. Just feel.
Write and write – length isn’t an issue now, either.
Then… walk away for a while.
You’ve spilled your guts. You’ve told your story. Give it a bit to breathe. Because now you’re really going to get to work. Your editor has been banging at the door – let her back in.
Grab attention from the start
Here’s the thing about appeals. Your first line is the most important. Why? Because its critical job is to get a reader to read the second sentence.
So keep that first line short. Punchy. Load it with emotion and impact. And maybe a little bit of suspense.
There’s a good chance, if you wrote with all the feels, that your first sentence is hiding in what you’ve already written.
Look 3-4 paragraphs down. (Those first paragraphs were throat-clearing.)
Don’t worry about introducing yourself. Or explaining a lot about why you’re writing. Dive right in.
Then tell your story.
Design it for readers, not the cool kids
Chances are your donors, while definitely cool, are not kids anymore. So here are some keys to make this all work.
Rule #1: It must be easy to read. Check with the spell-checker in Word. Or better yet, try Hemingwayapp.com. You want a grade level between 4th and 6th. No, not because your audience are children. Because we’re all skimmers. No one will read anything that’s difficult to read. Make it easy.
Also, keeping the grade level down forces you to be clear.
Formatting matters: Your appeal should be as long as it needs to be. You will have people swear to you that no one reads a long letter. They would be wrong. Very wrong.
No one reads a bad long letter. But you need as much space as it takes to tell your story and make your request.
So short paragraphs – because readers are really skimmers. Make it easy.
Use a large font, and make it a serif font: Yes, my dears, 14 is the new 12. And use a serif font for print. Join the less-cool kids who actually raise money.
At least one inch margins. Give that appeal room to breathe. And give skimmers a chance to get the gist and jump in where their eyes land.
If you make just the changes above, you’ll be in better shape.
But there’s more you can do, and we’ll cover that next week!