DON’T do this in fundraising appeals, and get better results

In fundraising appeals, you should always thank your donors for their support, right? Wrong!

You can see why in this example. The direct mail appeal from a farm-advocacy nonprofit begins like this:

“Let me express my personal thanks for your generous support in this difficult year. Because of you, [charity] could work vigorously in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to protect America’s precious farmland and ranchland and keep family farmers and ranchers on the land.”

The tone of this copy is all corporate memo. It’s not personal. It’s not conversational. But that’s not the real problem. The main thing that’s hurting this appeal is the opening that thanks donors for their support.

You see this kind of opening again and again in fundraising appeals, and it’s hard to understand why. As an opening gambit, it’s just weak.

First of all, a donor getting this might well assume that it’s a thank you letter for past support and simply stop reading.

Second, a donor who gives to your nonprofit should be acknowledged for their gift in the thank you letters you send, in the newsletters you send, and in other communications. Not in appeals. Your appeal mailing is where you want to engage a donor with an exciting opportunity to make a difference.

The headline, the subhead, and the lead paragraphs are your chance – consisting of only a few seconds – to attract your donor’s attention and keep her reading. You don’t do that by acknowledging a fact that your donor is likely already well aware of – that she gives to your organization. You do it, in most cases, by opening with a compelling offer.

The second paragraph of this appeal goes like this:

“All of us at [charity] are deeply aware of the growing threats to America’s farms and ranches and the urgent need to protect as much agricultural land as possible. The personal and economic impacts of the coronavirus have added new layers of pain and hardship onto countless families, which makes us especially grateful for your generosity right now.”

Again, more corporate-memo copy. But that’s still not the real problem. The problem is that we’re well into this appeal and still there’s not even a whiff of an offer, not even a hint at something that would engage the donor in making a difference.

In fact, it’s not until you get to the fifth paragraph that you see the offer – a matching grant.

It’s hard to know why this idea of opening an appeal with a donor thank you persists, but it’s virtually always a bad idea.

If you’re responsible for your organization’s fundraising, and your in-house team is giving you this, you should probably look outside of your four walls for creative strategy. Or if your agency is giving you this, you should look elsewhere for help. Or if you believe that appeals should start with a thank you, it’s time to challenge that assumption.

So, bottom line, considering all of the above, how did this appeal perform? No idea. But it’s a pretty fair bet that it underperformed. However much money it raised, it could have raised more – probably a lot more – with the right creative strategy and the right structure for the appeal. And that’s a key point. Given how much time and money it takes to produce and send an appeal, it just makes sense to optimize everything. And that goes double for the messaging. Getting that right is essential to raising the funds your nonprofit needs.

This entry was posted in copywriting, donor psychology, fundraising and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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