In “How to Include Relevancy and Urgency in Your Fundraising Appeal” I discussed two important elements which will cause a prospective donor to make a gift to your organization today. Allow me to demonstrate by evaluating two of five fundraising appeal examples I received in just one day’s mail. I chose them because they’re similar, yet different. Both include:
- One page letter
- One page insert
- Response device
I’ll share both what’s good and what’s not so good. I’ve omitted the names of the organizations, but if you happen to be responsible for either of them and want to agree or disagree with me, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’ll give you a free tuition to Clairification School (or tack on 12 months to your existing one).
1. Nonprofit Hospital Appeal (one page, two-sided)
- The “Health and Racial Justice” header establishes relevance. We know from eye-tracking studies that one of the first places the reader’s eye goes to is the upper right-hand corner. Especially to big bold headlines and images. This alerted me to the fact this appeal was not just bread-and-butter cancer prevention or research but had something to do with one of today’s hot button issues.
- The first paragraph, especially the first sentence and concluding text in boldface, continues to establish relevance. “Cancer is never fair.” They know the reader has been thinking a lot about fairness lately, so this is a good hook to get folks to read further. “In many ways, the unequal impacts of cancer mirror those of COVID-19. Cancer is a pandemic in slow motion.” This is pretty brilliant. They’ve got inside my head. I WANT TO DEFEAT PANDEMICS. And COVID-19 isn’t the only battle around. Or the only pandemic with unequal impacts.
- The second paragraph outlines how my gift will be used. This is always an important element of good fundraising appeal examples, and they manage to put this in the context of how these initiatives will also embrace equity and diversity, tying the appeal to top-of-mind issues.
- The third paragraph cements relevance, reminding me I’m a ‘member’ of a community committed to health justice and equitable access. It also introduces an “ask” early in the letter, rather than waiting until the very end to get to the point.
- The fourth paragraph establishes urgency. “The historic events of the past few months have brought a new urgency to these issues…” These are then enumerated.
- Ensuing paragraphs include many more good lines establishing both relevancy and urgency. (To save space, and since these fundraising appeal examples are difficult to photograph well, I’ve omitted the visual for the rest of the letter.) Suffice it to note the hospital proposes to:
- “Target the root causes of cancer in underserved neighborhoods”
- “Uncover how racial disparities in physician-patient communication contribute to a much higher mortality rate for African American men with prostate cancer.”
- “Develop a training program to help cancer clinicians serve these patients better.”
- “Do educational outreach to immigrant residents and other vulnerable groups.”
- “Identify new targets for precision cancer therapies in minority patients.”
- “Reduce the financial and cultural barriers that prevent people of color from participating in lifesaving clinical trials.
- The closing two paragraphs of this letter cement both relevance and urgency:
“As a translational biologist and laboratory researcher, I began my career looking for ways to outmaneuver cancer in the lab. But the longer I work in this field, the more I realize that basic science is just one device in our toolkit.
We know we still have much work to do. With your support, we will continue to reach out to communities hardest hit by cancer, and amplify their demands for better prevention and screening, and more equitable care. Together, we can make this a place where social justice always guides how we engage in cancer care, research and education.”
- The ask is made in the P.S. (and on the attached remit device which is not depicted here). It continues to make the today case, relating the Cancer Center’s work to issues currently in the news.
- There is an inserted buck slip describing the hospital’s “ongoing response to COVID-19.” Sometimes inserts can depress response because they can have a way of distracting from the appeal’s urgency. In this case, however, reminding readers we’re not in normal times is a slam dunk for a hospital since they’re truly on the front lines. Yet not every such institution does a similarly effective job. Here they go further than simply stating the obvious. They add a URL to find out more about symptoms, prevention and “practical advice you can use to keep the people you care about healthy and safe.” This is one more way they double up on demonstrating relevance (they’re there to take care of you and yours) and urgency (we’re still in the midst of this ongoing crisis).
- Finally, having nothing to do with relevancy and urgency but just with good practice: I confess to a bias for using all available real estate. In other words, one piece of paper has two sides! Why squeeze all the print onto the front, in too small of a font size, when you can spread it out, make it more readable, and include a bit more compelling information and a repetition of the ask? This letter appears to me to be in 14 point type, which for me is today’s gold standard (Boomers are the largest cohort of donors, and they have trouble reading teensy type). The paragraphs are indented, which lead the reader into the copy and give it a bit of oxygen.
NOT SO GOOD
I would be picking nits. It could have a more specific dollar ask, but I’m not a major donor so they probably would be guessing. And the remit has a decent range of suggestions from $25 to $500, plus an “other” (which you should always have). This appeal is a home run.
2. Jobs Training Appeal (one page, one-sided)
- The opening sentence acknowledges the reader is concerned about health and safety, and likely worried about uncertainty. This puts the donor in the letter from the get-go, which is always a good idea. Alas, the second sentence is vague. And overall this opening paragraph isn’t written in a way likely to grab anyone’s attention. In fact, if the reader happens to be unwell, it may just stop then dead in their tracks.
What if it had begun instead more like this?
“I’ve never been so inundated with requests from people suffering devastating losses, and hope with all my heart you and yours are healthy and safe.”
- There is an attempt to tell the story of one person impacted by current events. Telling one story is the very best way to help readers visualize the problem you’re asking them to address. Alas, they waited until the fourth paragraph and didn’t provide enough detail for folks to understand or relate to the protagonist.
NOT SO GOOD
- The second paragraph is trying to be relevant by speaking to the work they’ve done to help communities who are disproportionately affected due to racial, financial, emotional and health barriers. However, unlike the hospital letter, the emphasis is on the past more than the future. “As you’ll read in the enclosed report… (This describes all the previous good stuff they’ve done).
- There is too much jargon and imprecision in the language used to be impactful. When you write to a donor, your goal should be to help them visualize both the problem and the solution to which they’re being asked to contribute. Vague bromides won’t cut it. What do you picture with any of the phrases used in this letter?
— “Everything possible” Specifically?
— “weather the moment” How?
— “build a better future” What might that look like?
— “impacts of the economic and public health crises” Can these be named?
— “resources to increase racial equity in the workforce and eliminate the digital skills divide” Noble and relevant, but… what are these resources and how will they achieve their intended goal?
- The third paragraph makes a well-intentioned stab at urgency, yet there’s a big disconnect. People don’t come to this agency until they’re out of work. So how can my giving now help them “before they lose hope, before they fall behind…?” It’s uncertain, and verges into one of my copywriting pet peeves – the myth that giving people hope will inspire their giving. People cannot visualize hope. It’s why you’ll never see a panhandler with a placard saying “Give me hope.” “Need food for my 2 kids” is more concrete and more inspiring.
- The fourth paragraph again tries for relevance by alluding to “terrible news” and “shocking events,” yet these are too vague to be visualized, internalized or understood in any way that might elicit empathy. Fundamentally, you want your readers to relate to someone specific in a story you’re telling. Someone specific who needs their help right now. Someone specific for whom they can be a hero. The fact that folks who work for this nonprofit are encouraged by “moments of hope” is lovely for them, but this is not donor-centered copywriting.
- The last sentence of the fourth paragraph negates urgency and will depress response. What does this make you think? “We’re inspired by the compassion and generosity of our supporters who collectively raised over $1M for [name of charity] in just three months.” It makes me think they don’t need my money right now!
- At first blush, having nothing to do with relevancy and urgency but just with good practice, this letter appears to be suffering from one of the symptoms of CEO-it is. This is the dread disease whereby the person at the head of the organization (sometimes it’s the board president), who is not a development professional, insists people won’t read a letter longer than one page. This letter appears to be in 11-point type. The paragraphs are not indented, so it gives the eyes no rest.
- One other problem: Though I did not show it in the photo below for privacy reasons, the right-hand side of the letter is completely taken up by a list of the board of directors. Remember the eye-tracking studies showing the upper right-hand side of a letter is one of the prime pieces of real estate? If you must list your board, don’t put them here. Try the left-hand side or the bottom of the letter. While including your board list can be useful if you’re a small community, your board members are well known, and you believe your constituents will be influenced to follow these folks, there are generally more reasons to leave the names off than put them on. First, it’s distracting. It’s a lot of copy (here it’s 25 board members and 24 past presidents), and folks will spend a lot of their time reading the list. Second, some folks will put the letter aside if they don’t recognize any of the names. Third, it takes away from positioning the donor as the hero; they may seem unneeded if there are a lot of other known ‘rich folks’ already on board.
There’s a good letter hiding in here, but the way it is currently written fails to do the most persuasive job possible in enabling the reader to clearly visualize the problem and relate to the specifics of the work ahead. This is a shame, because the topic of being without a job is very much on folks’ minds right now. There is relevance galore here, if this organization will only name it. Explicitly. Descriptively. Emotionally.
Imagine if the letter had begun something more like this:
“Diane received devastating news last month when she learned her paid internship was cancelled due to COVID-19, the work experience she needed to land her dream job as a machinist was now out of reach and, worse, she’d no longer receive the paycheck needed to continue living in her studio apartment.”
The letter could go on to describe the specific services she could access – if the donor helps — to develop skills, gain interviews, join a support group, apply for emergency assistance and so forth.
The shame is that I found the details of Diane’s story, deeply buried amidst a sea of data and statistics, in the one-page “enclosed report” – something I would never have looked at except for the fact it’s my job to evaluate fundraising appeals, so my attention span for these things is larger than the average bear’s.
Why is that such a big problem?
Because people give emotionally, not rationally. And stories tug on people’s emotions. See my recent article: “How to Include Relevancy and Urgency in Your Appeal.”
I hope this helps you craft a winning appeal that speaks to peoples’ hearts this year!
For more help crafting your appeal, grab [FREE DOWNLOAD] 18-Point Annual Fundraising Appeal Checklist.