I’d like to spiff up my appeal writing. I’m tired of the same old, same old. Plus, I’m a little uncomfortable asking for a specific amount when I don’t know what people might be able to afford. What are some good words or phrases to use, or to avoid using, when making the ask?
— Lexiphile (lover of words)
First, let me say that “same old” is not necessarily a bad thing in fundraising. Some words and phrases work for the lion’s share of people. And, unless you’re able to write different letters to specific individuals or cohorts – folks you know well enough to truly appreciate what floats their boats – you don’t want to get too cute, funny, religious, funky, hip, familial, or even formal.
Let’s begin with some effective calls to action inspired by Words that Sell by Richard Bayan.
Please consider a gift of $XXX (or in the range of $xx to $xxx). This is respectful. Don’t ask folks to give ‘something.’ It’s too vague and actually causes performance anxiety. Will they end up giving too little and be considered cheap? Will they end up giving too much and be considered a chump. Tell them what gift you need from them. And whatever you do, don’t say “whatever amount you can give will be appreciated.” How much will you be appreciating that token gift as you have to shut the doors on the program for which you didn’t raise sufficient funds. Tell the truth about what’s needed so your donors can make their most meaningful gift.
Please join in contributing…
The people relying on our communal support desperately need your help.
This vital work cannot continue without your help.
This is your chance to help…
The future of ________ lies in your hands.
Your generosity can give them a new lease on life.
Jimmy needs your support. Name your beneficiary (e.g., a person, place, animal or cause), not “we” or the name of your organization.
I know you won’t let us down. When you assume the best of people, you’re more likely to get it.
When it comes to words, here are my favorites to sprinkle throughout your appeal as appropriate:
“You are magic… powerful… extraordinary… unselfish… honorable… wise… far-seeing…
Neuroscience studies show this magic word can make any statement more persuasive. One of the most interesting studies, reported by Harvard Magazine, revealed that as a trigger for acquiescence, the word “because” increased success by over 30%. It turns out “because” is one of the persuasion principles that help explain the psychology of why people say “yes” without thinking. The human brain is simply wired to react when it hears this word.
Let’s say you begin with:
Instead of “Today I’m sharing Amelia’s story with you.”
Say “Today I’m sharing Amelia’s story with you because she needs your help.”
Instead of “Yes, I want to give.”
Say “Yes, I want to give because children need me.”
Instead of “Please consider a gift of $500.”
Say “Please consider a gift of $500 because children need your help.”
Instead of “Provide a meal to a starving child.”
Say “Provide a meal because Miguel is starving.”
There is a magical power behind the word “thanks.” It puts people in a receptive mood. It makes folks like you. And it’s simply considered good manners. But don’t just save the word “thanks” for your acknowledgement letters.
When you thank current or previous donors in your appeal letters for their past giving, it reminds them that they already made a decision to give to you. This triggers one of Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion – commitment and consistency. People tend to repeat decisions they’ve already made because doing so is congruent with their self-image.
When you thank prospective donors in your appeal letters for being caring people, it plays into the vision of the person they would like to see when they look into the mirror. It’s an ego booster that predisposes them to think well of you.
We live in an instant gratification culture. Per research by marketing strategist Gregory Ciotti, “our mid-brain lights up when we think about receiving something right away (and that’s the one [part of the brain] we want to fire up!).” MRI studies, including one on nicotine addiction, have shown our frontal cortex is highly active when we think about having to wait for something. It makes us anxious. You don’t want your donor feeling anxious about donating to you! Try:
Your gift will be put to workimmediately.
Your gift will instantly be put to work.
When you donate, you’ll instantly receive a profile of one of the women whose lives have been changed by your support.
Whether you’re a lexiphile or not, it’s always good to have a few research-based fundraising copywriting tricks up your sleeve to produce successful fundraising appeals!
— Charity Clairity
What phrases have worked well in your successful fundraising appeals? We’d love to hear from you!
Please use a pseudonym, like “Lexiphile” did, if you prefer to be anonymous.
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice. Clairification School has been called “the best bargain in fundraising!” Claire is also featured expert and Chief Fundraising Coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco California. If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire.