When not to thank your donors

How to begin a fundraising appeal – that’s a tough one. You win or lose donors in those first few seconds. So the opening has to be spot on, and that’s not easy.

Which is probably why so many appeals default to opening with a thank you to the donor for their support. It seems like a solid approach. Donors like to be thanked, right? But as this post from the Better Fundraising Company points out, it’s not a solid approach at all.

The reason it’s not a good approach, they say, is that most donors will read the first line thanking them for their support and go no further, assuming that nothing is being asked of them. No doubt that’s true.

And yet … the drive to open an appeal by thanking donors is incredibly strong. Many nonprofits can’t resist. Some, in fact, have it written into their list of fundamentals that every appeal shall begin with a thank you to the donor. Yes, that actually happens.

Luckily, most nonprofits probably aren’t this extreme. Yet this opening-with-a-donor-thank-you thing persists.

If it’s an absolute imperative to open with a thank you, then at least don’t let the thank you stand alone. Donors will assume nothing is being asked of them, as the Better Fundraising people say. Which means that the rest of appeal will probably go unread … and not acted upon.

Instead, at least key the thank you to an offer, so that donors realize that they can do some good. It could be something like this: “Because your last gift of $15 made such a huge difference – thank you! – I writing to you about another powerful way to save someone who’s going hungry.”

Better yet, keep the thank-you stuff for acknowledgement letters and newsletters, and use appeals to focus on the problem that donors can solve.

It’s a shame for a nonprofit to restrict itself to one kind of opening for an appeal when there are so many clever gambits that we could use – openings that would grab donors’ attention, draw them into the appeal, and get them to donate. It’s a choice between raising more money and raising less.

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