How NOT to begin a fundraising appeal – and one way that almost always works

A fundraising appeal from a social services nonprofit opens with this:

“What would we do without you? How would we help local families like Michelle’s?”

That’s the opening paragraph, the first thing that donors will see, and for some, the only thing they’ll see. Because if the opening isn’t right, then most donors won’t go any further. And that generally means no donation.

What would WE do without you? How would WE help local families… That’s how this comes off to most donors. We, We, We. We’re the ones doing all the work, and all you do is give a few bucks every once in a while.

This opening manages to create the appearance of donor centricity without really being donor centric at all. It seems at first like it’s empowering the donor but then it stops short. It takes aim at the target audience – the donor – then goes just wide of the target.

Maybe the thinking behind this approach as an opening gambit is that it’s we, the organization, in partnership with you, the donor, working hand in hand to do good in the world. If that’s the case, a better approach might be something like this: “You and I are putting our hearts into this – together – to help local families like Michelle’s.” This way it’s more clear that donor and the person signing the letter are on equal footing in this arrangement.

But still, there’s another approach to opening a fundraising appeal that brings fewer problems with it and almost always sets the appeal on the right track. And it has the added advantage of being simple and direct.

It’s this: “I’m writing to you because …”  Most people in general and most donors in particular would appreciate receiving clear communication like this.

No BS, no warming up to the subject, no initial throat clearing, no hollow flattery about how “we” couldn’t do anything without the particular donor reading the letter. Instead, just getting straight to the point about the need. As far as openings go, it’s about as tried and true as they come.

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