fundraising lettersOver the past few years, I’ve had the chance to lead research on what motivates people to give to nonprofit organizations and social causes. I’ve tested variations of fundraising appeals in countless focus groups. And I’ve applied what I’ve learned in research settings and used it in real fundraising appeals. The result? The nonprofits that used this approach saw an increase in donations.

So here are seven practical tips to help you build a better fundraising appeal:

  1. Open With a Short Story

Highlight a challenge and how your organization helped to overcome that challenge. Stories help elicit the empathy necessary to prime people to give. Keep the story short; focus on the drama as the characters struggle to meet the challenge.

Be creative with your storytellers by having the letter come from a donor, volunteer or program beneficiary. Research shows that donors are more likely to trust other donors or program beneficiaries because they are not seen as having a vested interest.

  1. Show Other Examples of Success

Now that you’ve elicited empathy, it’s time for donors’ logic to kick in. So highlight one or two facts to demonstrate that your success extends beyond this one example story (this is one of two places where facts and numbers work). Make these examples concrete by using visual language (people can’t see programs and initiatives in their mind’s eye, but they can see mentors working with young people).

  1. Demonstrate that You Are Good Stewards of Their Investment

Most donors have heard of some example of nonprofit malfeasance or misuse of funds, so show the donor that you invest donor dollars wisely. Talk about the high percentage that goes to program vs. administration or how you have been accredited for good management practices (the other place where a well placed fact or number – used sparingly – works well).

  1. Make the Donor the Hero of Your Fundraising Appeal

Spend less time bragging about your accomplishments and more time letting donors know what you were able to accomplish with their support. Your appeal should have at least three mentions where you make it clear that you cannot do it without the support of donors.

  1. Articulate a Higher Moral Meaning

Most donors give because they find moral meaning in doing so. What’s the broader moral or value your story and examples represent? Maybe it’s a message about our common humanity. Or, strong communities need art because it reflects our shared struggles — and aspirations.

  1. Ask Them to Own the Vision 

This is the point where you ask them to donate. But beyond asking them to donate, you are asking them to join — or own in — making your organization’s vision a reality. Always offer a range: “Would you make a donation today for $25, $50, $100, or whatever you can afford?”

  1. Thank Them – and then Thank Them Again.

Thank them for their consideration. You’d be surprised how many organizations don’t say thank you enough! Shockingly, many non-profits fail to thank their donors after they make a donation. If someone makes a donation, they deserve more than an auto-reply that their credit card transaction was approved. Some donors who give $100 or $250 can give $500, $1000 or more. They begin with small donations to see if the organization expresses appreciation.

What other tactics have worked in your direct fundraising appeals? Let us know!


Image courtesy of Flickr user HowardLake. 

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robertRobert Perez is a LightBox Collaborator who loves to identify, test and apply solutions that help nonprofits achieve results.