Why this trait is essential for your fundraising

Curiosity. It’s a trait that virtually all people share, and it’s one that we definitely want to tap into for fundraising.

Arousing curiosity is a tried and true way to get donors to notice your direct mail or email appeal, encourage them to keep reading, and guide them to give a gift.

Of all the techniques we use in direct response fundraising, curiosity is probably one of the most reliable.

But how do you wield it? Three tips:

  • Reveal some information but not all of it. Curiosity lies in the gap between what we know and what we want to know.
  • Talk about the potential for a big reward or a big disaster. Donors will instinctively want to know what might be coming.
  • Shock or provoke your donors a little. You can nudge or even challenge your donors to want to find out more.

There’s a lot more to each of these three tips – including specific examples – and you can find it here: https://tinyurl.com/293tk9pd

Posted in copywriting, fundraising | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When disaster fundraising works and when it doesn’t

If you haven’t already, you’ll probably soon receive a barrage of emails appealing to you for donations to help the victims of the horrible earthquake in Turkey and Syria. This is of course a worthy cause. The need is overwhelming. And the rest of the world should do everything possible to help.

Which makes this email subject line so puzzling. Here it is:

“How we’re saving lives in Turkey right now.”


Then in the email itself, there’s this headline:

“How we’re saving lives in Turkey right now.”

Double huh.

Imagine you’re a potential donor. What’s your reaction to that line? Mine is that it looks like they’re got everything covered. Time to move onto the next email in the inbox.

With that subject line and headline, I’m left completely out of this as a potential donor. And that’s too bad.

Because the quake zone is total devastation. Tens of thousands killed. Survivors left without shelter, food, sanitation. The risk of cholera and other diseases. It’s destruction on a mass scale.

However much this nonprofit has done, it’s a drop in the bucket. There’s sooooo much more to do. They need my donation. And I want to give it. But they’re not making it easy. They’re not engaging me. In fact, they’re suggesting that I’m not needed.

The text of the email begins by referencing the death and destruction. But in the second paragraph, it reiterates the work that the charity is doing. Again, giving the impression that they’ve got this covered and don’t need my gift.

This is followed by a bulleted list. But it’s not a list of what needs to be done. It’s a list of what they’re already doing. Further on in the email, it says that their teams do whatever it takes.

Granted, there is a donate button with the words “Rush your gift.” But still, the messaging has an inside-our-four-walls, organizational framing, not a donor-centric one. There’s a lot of “we,” “us,” and “look at what we’re doing,” instead of “you” and “here’s how you can help.”

Of course this email will probably raise a lot of money. That’s the thing with disaster fundraising. It often does well even if it’s done badly, because donors are generous people who do want to help. Still, donors want to be involved. They want to feel like their support is needed. So instead of making it about what the nonprofit is already doing, it should be more about how much you, the donor, is urgently needed now to save lives. Messaging along those lines can raise even more revenue. Which would save even more lives.

Posted in copywriting, donor psychology, fundraising | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to keep your donors interested in your fundraising appeal

It’s the age-old problem: how to engage the readers of your direct-response fundraising appeal to, first, start reading and then to continue reading.

Luckily, we have some tips from Clarification blog:

  • Talk less about us (the nonprofit) and more about you (the donor).
  • Use shorter paragraphs to make copy more inviting and easier to read.
  • Don’t stop at a compelling headline or subject line. Also consider the subheads, the PS, the salutation, and other components to keep readers engaged.
  • Use a metaphor to paint a picture for your readers.
  • Use quotations but keep them short, so they’re more likely to be read.

These are all good tips.

But there’s one additional aspect to good copywriting to add to this list. It’s vital if you want to keep readers motivated, and that’s using transitions.

Transitions are invaluable if you want to keep your readers moving from one paragraph to the next like a slinky toy going down stairs.

And in linking your paragraphs together, transitions also make a piece of copy seem like a coherent, crafted whole – a good thing.

The transitions to use? There are an infinite number, limited only by your imagination. But some that are frequently used include phrases like “that’s just the beginning,” “and don’t forget this,” “and here’s the point,” “we’re not done yet,” “what does this mean to you?” and many, many others.

Using transitions is one of the best ways to help ensure that your readers take in your complete fundraising message. And that’s your best chance of moving them to give.

Posted in copywriting, donor psychology, fundraising | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two ways to begin a fundraising appeal – from Jerry Huntsinger

In Jerry Huntsinger’s “86 Tutorials in Creating Fundraising Letters and Packages,” he makes a point about how to begin a fundraising appeal.

He makes his point with an example. It’s an appeal for a cancer charity. It begins:

“Children shouldn’t have to face the devastation of cancer and death. But they do. Each year, hundreds of children…”

It’s the standard, institutional, boilerplate blah, blah, blah. Jerry notes that where the letter actually begins is in the fifth paragraph, with this:

“Lance was diagnosed with leukemia two days before Christmas. He was 2 years old. ‘Lance was so sick that they flew us to Twin Cities for immediate treatment,’ his mother said. ‘His platelets were so low that his teeth bled through the night.’”

BAM – there you are, right in the middle of the drama. Nothing institutional about that. Nothing blah, blah, blah about that. Especially that detail about the boy’s teeth bleeding – that detail gets you.

Sure, starting an appeal with a story is a tried-and-true approach. But here’s the point. The first opening – “Children’s shouldn’t have to face …” – is basic expository prose. It’s simply explaining something. It’s simply conveying a generalization about children and cancer. It’s not trying to involve you. (It’s something you’d get from ChatGPT if you asked it to write an appeal about childhood cancer.)

The second opening – “Lance was diagnosed …” – is meant specifically to involve you. It’s telling you that this letter is about a human drama playing out right before your eyes. It’s one human being talking to another.

As Jerry says, the second opening will raise more money.

Posted in copywriting, donor psychology, fundraising | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What makes a good offer for a fundraising appeal and what makes a bad one

Why does the offer matter so much in direct mail fundraising? Let’s take a look at an appeal to find out.

This is a fundraising appeal from a military nonprofit, and in the body of the letter, the first ask is this: Please let your service members know you stand with them by sending your most generous donation you can to [charity name] today.

So that’s the call to action – to “stand with” service members. To be honest, that’s a problem. Because “stand with” is vague. It’s a generalization. It’s an abstraction. It’s up in the clouds, instead of being down-on-the-ground concrete.

The donor isn’t being asked to solve a specific problem, help a specific person, or even to fund a specific initiative of this nonprofit. But to stand with service members. That doesn’t give the donor much to go on.

The second ask in the letter doesn’t give much to go on either. It’s this: We rely on the generosity of individual Americans in supporting our military. That is why I am asking you to support our troops and their families by giving whatever you can afford to [charity name]. Your gift of $15, $25, or more will make a real difference in the life of a brave hero who is fighting for every one of us.

A couple things here. The donor shouldn’t be asked to give to a charity. Donors aren’t motivated by giving to a charity. They’re motivated by helping someone or solving a problem or righting a wrong.

But even beyond that, this ask is again general, vague, and nonspecific. The donor is asked to “support our troops,” but there’s no indication of what that means in this context or how giving a gift will accomplish it.

Those two calls to action are in the body of the letter. Let’s take a look at the main call to action in the response device. It says: Please help strengthen our service members by keeping them connected to family, home, and country. Your tax-deductible gift to [charity name] will also provide other much-needed services to our military heroes and their families.

So, first we have “help strengthen our service members,” which is vague. Then we have “keeping them connected to family, home, and country.” Okay, that’s a hint of something. It’s good for service members to be connected to home. But how my gift would do that is not explained. Then there’s this: “…will also provide other much-needed services…” Other much-needed services? Like what?

This offer provides almost nothing for the donor to latch onto. And in doing so, it fails to answer the donor’s most basic questions. Like, How will my gift help? What will it do? What problem will it solve? Who will it help? These are the questions that must be answered for the donor before she’ll even consider giving.

In addition to that, instead of being asked to fund a small, specific part of the nonprofit’s mission, the donor is asked to fund the whole thing. That’s too big. It’s too much. Especially when that mission is something vague like keeping service members connected with family, home, and country.

In direct mail fundraising, with the exception of the list, the offer that you make to donors is probably the most important part of the whole project. In large measure, it’s the offer that determines whether the appeal soars or sinks. Less so for the writing, the graphics, the logo, the size of the envelope, and so on. Those things are important, of course. But ultimately it’s the offer that provides the motivation to give. And if that offer is vague and mushy, then you can expect the response to be too.

Posted in copywriting, donor psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s AI got to do with copywriting? Not much …

All the talk about AI for copywriting serves to highlight a basic misunderstanding of what copywriting is and what it isn’t.

What AI bots do is produce content. That’s not copywriting. Copywriting – whether for commercial marketing or fundraising – is NOT about producing content. If it were simply about that, then AI might have a place. But it’s not. And it doesn’t.

Copywriting is about persuasion. And because of that, it relies heavily on the rhetorical triangle. Yes, Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle.

He tells us that persuasion consists of three basic things:

Ethos – this is about the writer and his or her credibility — which is essential for your prospect to accept and believe your argument.

Pathos – this is the emotional aspect and how you tap into your prospect’s feelings.

Logos – this is the logical argument, the left-brain part.

The secret to the rhetorical triangle is how you use it. Depending on you, your purpose, and your audience, you could use just one part of the triangle (say, pathos), you could use two parts (say, pathos and ethos), or you could use all three.

Or you could use two and emphasize one over the other in your copy. You could use all three and emphasize two of the three over the third. You get the idea. Point is, there are lots of variations here.

And that IS the point. Because there are lots of variations, creativity is involved. Creativity in which of the rhetorical aspects you use in a given project. Creativity in how you choose to express ethos, pathos, or logos (lots and lots of options here). Creativity in how you put all of it together. And creativity in how you craft it into a cohesive whole.

Copywriting is made up of the many, many decisions the writer makes with regard to all this. Some of these decisions are based on education, experience, and training. Some are based on intuition. Some are based on esthetic sense. Some are done consciously and some subconsciously. All these considerations come into play and combine to make up an effective piece of copywriting.

No, copywriting isn’t about producing content. That’s because an effective piece of copywriting isn’t just content. It’s one human being who is appealing to and connecting emotionally with another human being. No bot, regardless of how sophisticated, can do that.

Posted in copywriting, donor psychology | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The envelope teaser

The burning question in direct mail fundraising?

Should you use a teaser for the outside envelope of your next appeal, or not?

Some say the plain, blank envelope is the best ‘teaser,’ a no-teaser kind of teaser.

But if you use a blank envelope to ‘trick’ people into opening it, and if the appeal isn’t something the donor wants or cares about, and they just toss it, then what have you really gained?

That’s why the opposing camp suggests using a teaser in order to set the stage for the donor and get her interested in what the appeal is all about, so that when she opens the envelope, she’s ready for something that’s relevant and interesting.

Along those lines, there are three basic types of teasers that work.

There’s the offer teaser.

There’s the benefit teaser.

And there’s the curiosity teaser.

To get the whole story – including specific examples for each kind of teaser – visit https://tinyurl.com/ew65trr3

Posted in copywriting, donor psychology, fundraising, nonprofit | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

8 questions to ask to get inside your donor’s head

The better you know your donor, the better your appeal is going to be. That’s obvious. The problem is your donor is probably coming from a completely different experiential background. How do you get inside that person’s head?

Luckily, the answer comes by way of a book on screenwriting: The Protagonist’s Journey by Scott Myers. In his book, he lays out eight questions that a screenwriter needs to ask in order to understand the protagonist of the story and get into the protagonist’s head.

Here, those questions are adapted for direct response fundraising. I go into each of these questions in detail in my article in Nonprofit Pro. See it here: 8 Questions to Ask to Get Inside Your Donor’s Head (nonprofitpro.com).

But here’s the 50,000-foot view.

1. Who Is the Donor?

To create an effective appeal, you can’t think of your donors as a mass of people. You have to think of one person.

2. What Does the Donor Want?

Your donor gives for her own reasons, not because your charity needs funds. So your appeal has to align with what your donor wants.

3. What Does the Donor Need?

What your donor needs and what your donor wants aren’t necessarily the same thing.

4. What Is the Eventual Resolution of the Donor’s Want and Need?

The eventual resolution isn’t necessarily giving a donation, although that’s certainly part of it. 

5. What Is at Stake for the Donor?

Your donor sees that there are things at stake, both for her and for the people around her.

6. Who or What Opposes the Donor From Getting What She Wants and Needs?

Maybe she discovered a new charity that has her attention. Maybe she just doesn’t feel like giving right now.

7. What Does the Donor Fear the Most?

Sometimes what your donor fears the most is only partially related to your cause.

8. Why Does This Donor Need to Give at This Time?

There are lots of reasons your donor would decide to give to your nonprofit. It’s important to pick the best one. 

This is just a summary. To get the whole story, take a look at my full article on Nonprofit Pro at 8 Questions to Ask to Get Inside Your Donor’s Head (nonprofitpro.com).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to begin a fundraising appeal

What should come first in a fundraising appeal? It’s an important question. Maybe even the most important question. Because if you fail to capture your donor’s attention at the start, there’s not much chance she’s going read the rest of your letter or email.

So those first couple of lines had better be good. Which is why this example is so puzzling. It starts like this:

Dear Friend,

Tonight, millions of children in this country and around the world will go to bed with empty stomachs and troubled minds because they did not get enough to eat today.

But their hunger is not inevitable. It is a choice. Not their choice. Ours.

We make that choice every time we allow our nation’s leaders to decide there’s enough money to increase spending on national defense and cut taxes for corporations … but not enough for programs that reduce hunger and give children the nutrition they need to grow up healthy and reach their full potential.

As the world struggles to contain the coronavirus, those who were already hungry are suffering even more. Even before the pandemic, 1 in 3 children under age 5 suffered from malnutrition. Now, as hunger is surging around the world, even more children will die because of acute malnutrition.

Okay, that’s the setup. Up to this point, the appeal is pretty much a meditation on childhood hunger. Which is important as a topic, of course, except that this copy is certainly not you-focused. It’s not really engaging the donor. It’s describing the problem but not inviting the donor into it. Which, again, is puzzling. Because what comes next is this:

If your faith moves you to action to help people suffering from hunger, please sign and return the enclosed Citizen Petition.

It’s not clear why we moved from children going hungry to people going hungry, but leave that aside.

The question is, Why isn’t this line about the petition at the very beginning of the appeal? If your donor-involvement device is the petition – which it clearly is in this appeal – then there’s no reason to bury it under four paragraphs of text that simply describes the problem but doesn’t give the donor anything to do.

Instead, lead off with the reference to the petition, and engage the donor in a specific action right from the start. This is one way to do it.

Dear Friend,

If your faith moves you to take action to help children who are going hungry, please sign and return the Citizen Petition I’ve enclosed for you.

Here’s why.

We let our nation’s leaders decide there’s enough money to spend billions on national defense and cutting corporate taxes … but not enough to help innocent children who aren’t getting enough to eat.

This has to stop. It’s time for caring people like you to take a stand.

Because tonight children across our country will go to bed hungry. That little girl saying her prayers before bedtime – she’s going to get under the covers with her stomach growling and her eyes filling up with tears.

How can she grow up healthy like that? How can she learn in school? How can she be happy?

She can’t. Unless you help.

So please, sign the Citizen Petition I’ve enclosed for you, and return it with your gift of $20 … $25 … or even $50.

Often in appeal letters, the first several paragraphs are used just to warm up to the actual point. That pretty much never works.

It’s vital to get to the point fast. Then, there’s a much greater likelihood that your donor will absorb the essence of the message.

Getting to the point also shows donors that your messaging is important and relevant. It shows donors that you respect them and their time. And it shows donors that there’s a specific action they can take to help solve a problem.

That’s one way to move your donors from an “uh, maybe later” response to the response you want: “I need to give now!”  

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What’s wrong with thanking donors?

I just got an email with the subject line “I’m so grateful.” Let’s see what this is all about.

Turns out it’s from a rescue mission, an organization that I love and support.

Here’s the text of the email:

Dear George,

What a wonderful day! And you helped make it happen.

I cannot thank you enough for your support of our #GiveFromHomeDay.

Your generosity makes a life-changing difference for the people we serve — homeless men, women and children who are desperately in need of hope.

As we do everything we can to reach our most vulnerable neighbors, your support is what makes our work possible.

On behalf of all of us here, and especially on behalf of the families we serve, I hope you know just how appreciated you are.


Okay, an important point here. “You helped make it happen”? Uh, no, I didn’t. I have supported this organization in the past, but I didn’t give to this specific campaign. Soooo … why are they thanking me?

Are they trying to guilt me into giving now? Is that why they’re thanking me for something I didn’t do?

Or do they not know that I didn’t give? And they’re just sending the thank you out to everyone on the email list for some reason?

Either way, this email is not giving me warm fuzzies as a supporter. And that’s too bad, because this email could have been written in such a way as to thank donors who did give, present the opportunity for those who didn’t give yet to give now, and still be able to send the email out to the entire list.

But all of that notwithstanding, the bigger issue is this notion of thanking donors – reflexively and constantly – in every communication, no matter what. There’s this idea that we have to be thanking donors all the time, and that this is some kind of expression of “donor love” or donor centricity.

There’s a time and a place to thank donors – like in a thank you email sent in response to a donation, in a newsletter where you’re emphasizing positive outcomes, and so on. Because then you’re thanking donors for doing something good and positive – something, in other words, that they’d expect to be thanked for.

Acknowledging and appreciating your supporters doesn’t mean you have to begin every appeal letter or email with a thank you, or that the purpose of an appeal is to stroke the donor’s ego instead of presenting a compelling offer, or that you just send out blanket thank yous to an entire donor list for no reason.

When you do that, donors see it as the smokescreen that it so obviously is.

Plus, it’s patronizing. Most donors are people in the 60s, 70s, and beyond. They know BS when they read it. They also know it’s not endearing to be thanked for something unnecessarily.

So by thanking donors when it’s not warranted or in communications where it doesn’t fit, you’re not bringing your donors closer. You’re reinforcing the negative impression that most donor communications are just a lot of hot air that really shouldn’t be believed or taken seriously. And all that does is undermine your fundraising.

Posted in copywriting, donor psychology, fundraising, nonprofit | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment