Whether you’re an old pro and just want some new tips, or you’re writing your appeal letter for the first time, you’ll find killer strategies and tried-and-true tactics in this webinar from Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE to get your appeal to the next level.

Full Transcript:

Steven:All right, Claire. Is it okay if I kick us off officially?

Claire:Go ahead.

Steven:All right. Well, good afternoon everyone on the East Coast and in the Continental United States. And if you’re west of California, I should say good morning. Thanks so much for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, The Anatomy of a Successful Fundraising Appeal, Making a Compelling Offer Your Donor Can’t Refuse. And my name is Steven Shattuck, and I am the Chief Engagement Officer here at Bloomerang. And I’ll be moderating today’s discussion, as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items before I begin officially. I just want to let you all know that we are recording this presentation and will be sharing that recording as well as the slides if you didn’t already get those later on this afternoon. Just look for an email from me, I’ll get all that good stuff in your hands today. So if you have to leave early, don’t worry, you’ll be able to watch the full recording later on. And you can even share it if you’d like to. I would definitely appreciate that. And as you’re listening today, please feel free to send in your questions and comments. We’re going to try to save as much time as possible towards the end of the presentation for Q&A. So don’t be shy. We’ve got a great expert here that will answer your questions. So feel free to pass those along throughout the hour or so.

And as you’re listening, you can do the same through Twitter. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Twitter feed if you want to send us your questions there. And if you have any trouble with the audio through your computer, we usually find that the quality is a little bit better by phone. So if you have a phone nearby and don’t mind dialing in, try that before you give up on us completely, since it doesn’t depend on your Wi-Fi and software and computer and all that good stuff. There is an email from ReadyTalk that went out about an hour ago that has a phone number in it for you to use. So try that rather than totally giving up on us.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say a special welcome to you. We do these webinars just about every week. Sometimes we do them twice a week, like today. But if you are unfamiliar with Bloomerang, we offer donor management software. So if you’re in the market for that or just want to learn more about us, check it out. We can provide you a quick video demo, don’t even have to talk to a salesperson if you don’t want to. You can still see the software in action. So check that out later on. Not in the next 90 minutes, definitely wait till the presentation ends, but we’d love for you to learn more.

But for now, I am very excited to introduce a stalwart of the Bloomerang webinar series, one of our favorites. She is Claire Axelrad. Hey Claire, how’s it going?

Claire:I’m doing well, thanks.

Steven:Thanks for being here. I know . . .

Claire:And I would also like . . .

Steven:Oh go ahead.

Claire:I just want to give a shout out for the Bloomerang software. It’s amazing software. It really, really is. So if you haven’t taken a look at it, do take a look at it.

Steven:Well thanks, Claire. That was . . .

Claire:I don’t get paid for saying that, but . . .

Steven:It’s true. That was not planned, so I definitely appreciate that. So I’m going to return the favor and brag on you. Claire, like you may have had before we started, hails from San Francisco. She’s got over three years of experience working for and at nonprofits. She was recently named AFP’s outstanding fundraiser of the year, a very prestigious award. She has a CFRE but she’s also a CFRE instructor. You can find her at many conferences, many webinars. She does her own webinar series. She’s a guest here on Bloomerang, she’s a guest on the 4Good Nonprofit Webinar series pretty frequently. She’s also a contributor to NonProfit PRO, and her blog was recently named the top fundraising blog by FundRaising Success. You’ve got to check that out. She will share all those links with you later on.

She even is a graduate of Princeton University. I don’t think we’ve ever had as prestigious of a graduate as you, Claire, on our webinar series, so one of my go-to experts. She’s going to share lots of fun examples and strategies and tips with you. So I don’t want to take any more time away from her. I’m going to pass things off to you, Claire, to tell us all about fundraising appeals. Take it away, my friend.

Claire:Okay, thank you so much for that, Steven. Welcome to everybody. I really want to give a shout out to you for taking the time today to contribute to your own professional development. It means that you really care about the work that you’re doing and about being the best that you can be. So yay you, and today we are going to look at something central both to acquiring new donors and to renewing and upgrading current donors, and that is your fundraising offer. We’re going to break that down, piece by piece.

But first, I just want you to consider what happens when someone offers you an opportunity to do something, anything. What’s the big question you ask yourself before you take up this opportunity? What you’re really asking yourself, is what’s in this for me? What is going to compel you to say yes? Does this sound like something that’s going to be fun or does it sound interesting or does it sound important? Is going to make you happy to say yes? Is it even going to . . . are you even maybe thinking well if I say yes to this, they’ll owe me one?

What makes a fundraising offer compelling, something that donors really won’t be able to refuse? It’s because there’s something in that offer that resonates with them in some way and makes them feel happy to say yes. And first, why listen to me on this? You already got some background on me. I have been doing this, in the trenches, walking in your shoes, for 30 years. I oversaw fundraising and marketing for five different organizations and since I went out on my own as a consultant six years ago, I’ve worked with even more organizations. And what I am about to share with you today, I can tell you holds true, no matter your size or your cause.

So let’s review what we’re going to cover today. So we’re going to go over three preconditions to having your fundraising offer work, sort of setting the table before you can get to the meal. We’re going to look at four ways to stuff your appeal with benefits because the donor, like you, is saying what’s in this for me? And then we’re going to cover the meat and potatoes of your compelling offer, which will be seven elements of a call to action, seven triggers that make your appeal emotionally compelling so that your offer won’t be refused, and seven keys to readability. Plus there will be two bonus tips at the end to help you get started and ending your appeal with a bang.

So I want to begin with the equivalent of a poll, and just type your answers into the chatbox. But what do you think is your worst fundraising appeal offense? And I would encourage you to even do this as an exercise back at your office. Just put a whiteboard up and put all these things up and just have people go up to the whiteboard with your particular appeal in mind and put the stickies up so that you can figure out huh, we really need to work in this area.

So I’m seeing impersonal, I’m seeing filled with data, that is a big mistake. Egocentric, not clear where the money is going to be used, preachy, no specific ask, problem is too big. Okay, so all of these problems. All right, we’re going to cover all of them.

But let’s begin at the beginning, which is the essential preconditions to setting your fundraising offer up for success. You need a great mailing list, a great story to tell, and an understanding of the conversation you want to have, just like if you were talking to somebody about why they should give to your organization. So it’s a give and take. And you can see from this pie chart that the mailing list is really important.

So this is precondition number one, and we are not covering list building today per se but you have to start with a good list. The Pareto rule applies in spades here, and this is for both your snail mail and your email list. You can have the best copy in the world, but without the right group of people to send it to, you won’t raise much money, and I really can’t overemphasize this. I have seen too many campaigns fail for want of a proper list. And that means that the list is large enough, that it has data and salutations correctly entered into the database, that the addresses are updated, the deceased people are eliminated, and that you ideally, properly segmented your campaign.

In other words, if you sent a slightly differently worded appeal to dog lovers than to cat lovers, you would raise more money. If you sent a different appeal to current donors than you do to prospective donors, you will raise more money. So you’re going to get these slides in the end. There are some tips on here of how to build your list and then how to get to know the people on your list, because the more that you know about them, the more that you can segment your appeal.

The next precondition is a great story. If you don’t have a story that resonates with your readers, you’re lost before you begin. So what I would do, when I worked in the trenches, is every summer I would sit down with my staff and we would brainstorm a theme for that year’s appeal. And we would look for a story, because an appeal that can’t be resisted is not just about technique. Again, a message that’s brilliantly crafted that doesn’t resonate with your supporters is not going to work.

So some of you who are on the call today, may have some, what I call, classic causes like a food bank, for example, where the message resonates all year long. Even you, however, might benefit if you tie into what is going on in your donor’s mind right now. Like what’s going on in the world? If the economy is such that people are losing jobs, then your message about people needing food is going to be more resonant. There are a lot of climate events going on, refugee crises, human rights threats. What do you think people are thinking about and how can you tie this into your need and why funding is needed now? Because they’re wondering, of all the things they have to give to, why is this particularly urgent? Then think about what key initiatives you have going on that need funding now. Because obviously you want to raise money where you need it the most. And then what is your best emotional story to illustrate these things? Just “It’s annual appeal time again, give money” doesn’t really cut it.

So one way, to quickly ramp up the emotional content in the story is with a great visual that illustrates your story. So once you brainstorm the story you’re going to use, ask yourself if you have any visual to illustrate that story, because it really can make the difference. Here, you just really want to jump into Camilo’s story, meet him, and improve his life. The same is true with Alicia, when you see their pictures. And just as an aside, a good story is a story that people are going to want to retell, that they’re going to want to share. A great donor experience is one that’s worth telling others about. So the best fundraisers give donors stories to tell, stories about the difference that they made, how exciting this process was, how deep the need they addressed was. The donor is going to end up making up their own story, which will be about them and how they helped, but you have to give them good material.

Then once you know what story you’re going to use, you frame it in your mind as a give-and-take conversation. So you say something, and then you imagine what the donor is thinking. “Do you believe in miracles, Joe? With this letter, you can make one happen.” And Joe’s thinking, “Hmm, that’s intriguing. I wonder how I can do that. I’d love to be a hero.” And you kind of play out this conversation in your head, which is very different than the lecturing tone that a lot of appeal letters take, where you’re kind of trying to educate your donor or even worse, trying to badger them and point fingers at them. Donors are not going to pay attention if the letter is all about you.

You also want to make this conversation personal, just as you would in person. You want to call people by their correct name, not Joseph if their name is Joe. You want to err on the side of being informal, just as you would in a conversation. You want to be attentive to how the donor is connected to you. “There’s a new way to save the lives of people like your daughter.” And he’s like, “I had no idea. I wish they had that when Susi was sick.” You want to be relevant to how they are connected. Were they a former patient? Were they a volunteer? Are they a board member? As a board member, you know better than most and you go on. You don’t want to give them this sort of letter as if they’ve never heard about you before. The same is true if they have a student in your school. If they attended an event, as you learned at the event, the more you can connect them and seem personal and acknowledge their past association with you, the better.

And I really like to evoke a common predicament. So this is a predicament that the donor can relate to and you will talk to your donor as if they have some skin in the game. So for example, if I don’t have a child with a disability but I’m a parent, I could relate to how it might be or feel to have a child with a disability. So you relate to me like I’m a parent. If you’re stuck in an airport due to a delay of some sort, you will strike up conversations with complete strangers about the common predicament that you’re in. So you want to assume that there is this commonality. There’s something that your donor relates to that they understand and your tone should convey a sense of being in this together, sharing similar values.

So these are the preconditions. I want to look more closely now at how to assure your appeal is centered around what’s meaningful to your donor. And I have this acronym, CRAM, to help you remember these four ways to cram your appeal with benefits that your donor wants. Because remember, the donor is thinking what’s in this for me. And I have this very simple appeal up here that’s just really short, but it does have all the CRAM elements, the first being connect. You connect with the audience, based on their values. Now here is “Let us help make your holiday shopping the best experience ever by choosing the gift that keeps on giving.” It’s holiday time, you’re connecting with me, I’m thinking about that sort of thing. Then you reward your audience so that they can feel good about themselves. “Celebrate the holiday season by giving hope, mobility, and freedom to someone who has none. You will change the life of a child, teen, or adult with a physical disability, as well as the lives of every member of their family.” This is a really good reward, if I can do this.

And then you have an action, something clear and specific that they can do to get that reward. And here, it’s very clear. Give $75, buy a wheelchair. And then you try to make it memorable. You want something that sticks with the donor, and that’s why I was talking about stories and memorable photos. And here, included with this appeal, there was this four-color photo of a little girl in a wheelchair, so it’s a lasting image that’s directly tied to the cause.

So now I just want to drill down into all of the key elements that are going to trigger your donor’s giving instincts, so you can cram all of these into your appeal and make it do its job. But I want you to make your mantra the Godfather’s mantra, “I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse,” but not in a bludgeoning way. In a “I’ve got something you’re going to really want to be a part of” way. And there are seven content triggers, seven asking triggers, and seven readability triggers. So when you finish your appeal, run it by your friends, run it by your family and say, “Hey can you refuse this?” And if they say, “Yeah, I can,” then you have to go back and look and see if you’ve failed to include any of these 21 key elements.

So we’re going to start with the content trigger. And what I really like to do when I’m composing a letter is begin with a photo. And I like to choose a photo that has as many of these content triggers in it right off the bat because that makes my job a lot easier. And then I can fill in the rest. So here, you look at this photo, you can see the problem. This guy’s homeless, he needs help. And I can imagine the solution to this and I can fill in the specifics of the goals and the cost. I can fill in some more emotional prompts in the narrative of the story. I can give you a deadline for when the money has to come in. And I can try to get you imagining yourself in this person’s shoes, putting it in some kind of context for you. And then finally, I can make you feel like a hero and reward you for giving. So let’s look at each one of these.

A problem that connects. Remember, connect is the C in CRAM. You want to present the problem in such a way that the donor is going to really want to help you solve it because it’s a problem that they care about. And the kicker here is, you’ve got about two seconds to draw your reader in, which is why I like to begin with a one-sentence takeaway that arouses curiosity and simplifies the problem and makes it as black and white as possible. So here, we’re seeing another homeless person’s placard. And from this, you could write a great one-sentence opening, “Brenda and her two small boys are homeless and hungry because their apartment burned down.” And photos are great for this, too, but I’m already intrigued. I want to read more. So I always start my letters with both the one-sentence takeaway and the photo and caption.

Next, I establish rapport by using the word “you.” You can help. And always remember that you want to make the problem concrete, not abstract. So homelessness is very concrete, but if I were to say, “Will you give hope to Brenda?” that would be really unclear. It requires too much explanation, and I see that a lot in fundraising letters. Help us restore hope. Let us bring hope and health. And you’re never going to see a homeless person with a placard that says give me hope.

What you want is to force a decision by presenting a black-and-white problem that makes the readers say, “Yes, I’ll help,” “No, I won’t help.” So you have to think about the single most important thing you need to communicate and then tie your opening to your reason for writing as quickly as possible. Because that might be the only thing that your prospect will read before they decide whether or not to continue or toss your appeal into the trash. So again, this cardboard says black-and-white problem, homeless mom with kids needs help. And your one-sentence takeaway ties to that.

Other examples of one-sentence takeaways, you saw the photo before of the young woman graduating. “Alicia dreams of being the first in her family to graduate from college and become a nurse. Instead, she’ll probably get a minimum wage right out of high school unless you help.” Or let’s say you don’t have a person. You’re an environmental organization. “Lake Louise used to provide water for the whole county. In 20 years, it’s likely people won’t even be able to swim in it, let alone drink in it unless you help.” Folks who are likely to say yes to your appeal are those for whom the problem readily connects with their values. And those who are going to say no are those who don’t really care about those issues. It just doesn’t connect for them. And then there are the folks in between, those you need to persuade that something is wrong, something they can right.

So you really need to help donors see the problem. And then you suggest a simple solution, once you’ve persuaded them that there’s a problem. And then again, you want the solution to be as black and white as possible. So the problem is “Please save me.” That’s the dog that needs rescuing. The solution, black and white, is “Give to rescue the dolphins.” Now, it’s not give so we can take all this soap and wash them off and do this and that and the other thing. People don’t care about your process. This is really important because many, many appeal letters are filled with egocentric stuff about your process. And you might care about the fact that you’re doing this with 25 full-time equivalent employees in 4 locations across 5 counties, or that you help people physically, spiritually, mentally, and socially. This is jargon. Your donor doesn’t think this way. They care about the core problem that your clients face and what it will take to help them overcome the problem. They don’t give to numbers of staff, numbers of volunteers or even numbers of clients. They give to the bottom line, the fact that the problem is going to go away with their help.

So focus on the results. Make the case that animals need to be saved, then show the solution, you and your donor rescuing them. They don’t care how homeless people get shelter. They just want them to get off the street and fed and clothed. They give simply so these things will happen and wrongs will be righted. So show them how they can make the problem end, and be specific. You want to give a clear and up-front goal with a cost. That’s what’s going to activate your donor to give. So describe exactly how much the gift is needed, precisely what the money will be spent on. Again, it’s unclear what something like hope costs. A vague request is going to yield a token gift. So if you tell me that you’ve got a $1,000 goal, my $100 gift is going to have some context for me. Whereas if I’m imagining you have $100,000 or a $1 million goal, I just don’t know how much to give. So vague requests really leave money on the table and don’t inspire thoughtful or passionate giving.

The next content trigger is emotional prompts that stick with your reader and make your appeal memorable. So they connect and they reward. In terms of connection, again, you want to come at this appeal from your donor’s perspective. They don’t have a child with cancer but they can imagine because they’re a parent. They may not have been tortured or abused, but they can tap into their fear of what this might be like. In terms of reward, you may have heard that there’s been a lot of research done with MRIs that show that people’s pleasure centers light up when they even consider making a gift. So everything about giving, thinking about it and doing it, is really good for us. So you should never feel bad about crafting a fundraising appeal that asks someone to act, to do something specific, because in return for that, they’re going to be amply rewarded emotionally. And this idea of emotional satisfaction is really important. One of the key insights in the commercial world is that they found that emotionally satisfied customers are substantially more profitable than rationally satisfied customers.

So how do you do this? There are lots of emotional triggers, but I’m going to come back to the strongest one, which is storytelling. You want to tell a compelling story with emotional prompts that inclines the donors to give a happy ending to the story of woe that you have presented. This really satisfies them. We are wired as human beings for stories. There’s a great book by Lisa Cron, “Wired for Story,” and it has a lot of the brain science about how you can kind of really hook people from the very first sentence of your story. And one of the things that it shows is that we, from very primitive times, have listened to stories and we want to enter into stories and becoming enraptured, feel a part of that story.

Whereas when there’s a lot of data that we’re confronted with, we naturally want to put up our dukes and refuse that data. So if you have data, it just stops people from reading it. It stops them dead in their tracks and they start to think, “Huh, that seems like one in four people are hungry? That doesn’t seem right to me.” And it just stops them dead in their tracks, whereas contemplating giving a happy ending to the story gives a dopamine rush. And that tells us to pay attention. And if you don’t have that, even the best prose is not going to hold people’s interests.

So of all the content that you can create, stories are the most powerful. Stories are really a gift to people because they give them the opportunity to be a hero, to save a life, to cure a disease, to clean a river. And when you offer a gift to somebody, it’s really hard to refuse. Think about your own childhood or your own kids. When somebody says, “Want me to read you a story?” the answer is usually yes. We love stories, we remember stories, but not if the story is boring or rambling or pointless. So you want to be succinct. The best mode is the before and after the donor’s help, and you talk about a protagonist that people can come to, relate to, to care about. And then you give a problematic tale of misfortune or struggle or conflict. And then you show the donor how to be the hero who creates the happy ending.

Remember, donors aren’t buying a story about you, about your organization. They’re buying a story about themselves as a hero. So if your fundraising is all about how awesome your organization is, if you make it about your organization’s story, you’re not helping donors tell their story. So again, back to that conversation mode, the donor has to be part of it. And again, in telling the story, images are really powerful because when you can see or visualize a problem, you react viscerally. Your gut gets involved and that speaks to your emotions, and emotions trump reason every time. Heart versus head, heart wins.

So in telling your story, you want to tell one story. And there’s a very famous experiment done by Paul Slovic in 2007 that made people familiar with what we call the identifiable victim effect. And in that study, those who received a fact-based appeal from Save the Children about the numbers of children in need gave an average of $1.14. Those who read a story about an individual child in need donated an average of $2.38, so more than twice as much. And then you might think, “Well if I combine the story with the data, that’ll be the best of all possible worlds.” No. Data stops people in their tracks. And the researchers called what happened in this case, where they gave only $1.43, they called it “the drop-in-the-bucket effect.” People were moved by the individual child story, but when they read the numbers, they felt overwhelmed by the scope of the problem, so they gave less.

So this is important. People respond only to numbers that they can grasp, not huge numbers. And there’s something that humans suffer from called scope insensitivity. The bigger the problem, the less relatable. So here is a study that was done where three groups of subjects were asked how much they would pay to save 2,000, 20,000 and 200,000 birds. And these were birds who were migrating and they were drowning in oil ponds. And they respectively answered $80, $78, and $88. In other words, the number of birds saved had little effect on their willingness to pay to save them.

Seth Godin says that when your donor is presented with an offer that involves making a decision of scale, if the number is greater than 10, the scope of the opportunity or problem will almost certainly be underestimated. So people can visualize one exhausted bird with their feathers soaked in black oil, unable to escape. And this image is called a prototype, and the prototype calls forth a level of emotional arousal that is primarily responsible for their willingness to pay. And the scope gets tossed out the window because no human being can visualize 2,000 birds at once, let alone 200,000 birds at once.

So data works only to reinforce somebody’s decision that was made by emotion to give. So you can maybe put some data into your thank you letter after they’ve already given and into your ongoing stewardship communications that makes them feel really good about the depth and breadth of the problem that they’re addressing. But not in a fundraising appeal. In a fundraising appeal, saying 24,000 children die from hunger every day is not good. One child dying from hunger is far more tragic to the human mind than 24,000 every day. So tell one story.

All right, the next content trigger is an urgent deadline. You don’t want to let your reader put down your appeal without responding. You’ve worked really hard to trigger their emotions and you want to strike before their ardor cools off. So you have to give them some reason why time is of the essence. And there are many reasons that you can come up with. One is “Give before our challenge grant runs out.” One is “Don’t miss your year-end tax deduction.” You’re having something like homeless people, “The cold of winter is approaching. Help us get people off the streets.” If your program is going to end, “Please help us keep our doors open.” You want to give them a reason that time is of the essence here.

The next key is . . . we’ve touched on this . . . putting it in some kind of donor context. Making it about the donor’s experience, not yours. And this gets back to not explaining every nuance of how you deliver this service or this program. Only you care about this. Your fundraising offer is not a place to feel compelled to educate your donors. This is really, really important. I see so many appeals that try to explain people into giving. You can’t do that. Donors just want a clear problem and then they want to show you they care. They care about fixing this problem and they will do that when they feel that doing that is an excellent expression of who they are.

And their context is, they want to be Superwoman, they want to be Mighty Mouse. They want to come in and save the day. Superheroes don’t want a lecture, they don’t want a term paper. Especially those with internet access because they can educate themselves today. They can Google you, they can learn more if they want to on your website or your annual report or someplace else. But your fundraising appeal is not the place. Your fundraising appeal is a terrible thing to waste, trying to beat folks over the heads with lots of information and data. So just make it about the donor, about how they can be your hero, how they can make good things happen.

And one of the ways I like to sort of hone in on this is I focus in on the one sentence I might put on the donation landing page or on the remit piece, which is “Yes, I want to feed hungry children.” That’s my context. “Yes, I want to put people to work,” “Yes, I want to save trees.” Not “Yes, I want to help heal people holistically so they can become self-sufficient through this, that, and the other thing.” That’s your context. So cross out all that stuff. Cross out all the egocentric stuff, all the I’s, all the Wes, all the names of your organization, and as much as possible, replace that with “you.”

“You” is the most important word in your appeal. Veteran communicator Tom Ahern says “You is glue, and every time you use it, the reader pays slightly more attention involuntarily. It’s the best cheap trick I know.” So you’ve got this whole letter but all they are seeing is “blah, blah, blah, your support, blah, blah, you, blah, blah, you can help a child, blah, blah, you, blah, blah, your gift.” That’s what people see. One note. People always ask “Can we use we if we mean our organization and the donor together?” Yes, you can, as long as you don’t use we when you’re just meaning the institutional we. People definitely want to be a part of a movement, a part of a community, a part of a family. And if you can kind of channel that and make them feel like they’ve joined something larger than themselves, then it’s fine to use the word we.

Finally, in terms of content, you want to have some donor benefits in there. And that means that you have to know the benefits that you think your target audience cares about. What I always say to people is if you want gifts, you must give them. And this is something that you do a lot in a thank you letter, but you also want to wrap them into your appeal. You want to try to remind them even subtly of the different rewards that come from giving and include some of these in your fundraising appeal, even if it’s just feeling really good about themselves or fulfilling a religious or moral obligation or even just doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Sometimes it’s assuring that help will be there should they ever need it. But think a little bit about what might the donors get out of giving to us.

And now I want to move on to the asking trigger and there are seven of them. And I use a garden hose as a trigger because you’re not holding a gun up to your donor’s head and making them give, you’re saying join us in growing, in nurturing the solutions to these problems together. So let’s go over each one of these.

And the first one is to get your ask in early. You really want to get to the point and ask in the first few paragraphs. Now, certainly you can and you should ask again at the end and actually multiple times through the appeal. But you don’t want to wait that long. And whatever you do, don’t bury your ask in what Jeff Brooks calls “the dead zone.” And that is the first three paragraphs of the last page of your letter. For some reason, people’s eyes skim right over that. So what I will use the dead zone for is if I have an ED or a board chair who’s signing the letter who insists on putting something in the letter that I know is not going to carry its weight and shouldn’t be there, like “we’re the oldest organization west of the Mississippi.” Ideally, you would never have to put something in a fundraising letter that isn’t going to thrill donors into giving. But until then, you can always hide it here.

Trigger number two is to ask for a specific amount and a specific purpose. So you don’t want to simply say “Please support us.” You don’t want to just say “Can I count on your support?” or “I’d love it if you could make a donation to our organization.” Those aren’t asks. Asks are direct questions that include a specific amount. “Will you please renew your important support with a gift of $250?” Or maybe a string, especially for new prospects who have no giving history, “Will you please send your special gift today of $25.50, $100 or more?” Or a monthly giving ask, “Will you please consider giving $20 a month to feed a senior for a year?” If you know $20 a month will feed a senior for a year, that’s something I really want to know and I need to know it. Because otherwise I might just send you 25 bucks because I have no idea what it takes to feed somebody.

And we need to get people over the feeling that it’s rude to ask for what you actually need to reach your goal. Because just imagine that you’re shopping and you see a jacket and you like it and you’re considering buying it, what’s the first thing that you ask the salesperson? “How much does it cost?” That’s really important. It really plays into people’s decision making. So you can also use your landing page or your remit piece to put in some specifics about what different amounts will accomplish.

Okay. The next thing is to realize that just because you’re being specific doesn’t mean you can’t also be gracious. And one of the best ways to be gracious is to put your donor into your letter early and keep them there by using their name, by using the word “you.” And also, flatter your donor. Make a big deal of their previous giving or assume that a new donor is going to be caring and generous. I talk a lot about creating an attitude of gratitude, and this holds true not just for the acknowledgement process but before somebody has given. It’s kind of a cultural shift that puts the focus on your donors as blessings, as heroes, and I really consider the 11th commandment for nonprofits to be “honor your donors.” Give credit and assume their best intentions and motivations and help them see themselves in your letter, because they are a crucial part of your nonprofit story. You, you, Claire, make this possible.

So you’re making giving seem honorable, not like a necessary evil or a chore. And then this flows right into being grateful, to reminding past donors of their gifts. That is really important, not just as a nicety, but it also acts as one of Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion, which is called commitment and consistency. People are inclined to repeat decisions they’ve already made because they want to be consistent. So if you remind them, “Oh, thanks so much for the gift you made last year,” they’re like, “Oh yeah, I already made that decision.” So it shortcuts the decision-making process for them this time and they’re just like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll do that again.” If they are a prospect, you thank them in advance. “Thanks to your compassion” . . . you’re already flattering them, you’re assuming this . . . “children won’t go to bed hungry.” When you act as if people will come through for you, it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy and it works a lot better than haranguing people and asking them to do their duty.

The next asking trigger is making it appear that this solution is going to work, that their gift is really going to solve the problem. So you don’t want to make the solution seem too big or too complicated because if the connection between the problem that needs fixing and what they can do to fix it seems very hard to figure out, they’re not going to want to work on this with you. If they can’t imagine that their gift is going to be more than a drop in a bucket, they’re going to put your appeal down because it’s just too frustrating.

And giant tasks are discouraging. That’s why we always try to break tasks down. And your donor knows she can’t cure cancer, but she can help you make progress in finding a cure. So you want to tell her specifically how she can do this. It’s why we break down your entire organization’s mission into one relatable story. Trying to solve multiple problems at once is discouraging. “I know I can’t cure every societal ill and I can’t help every one of your different programs with my $25 gift.” So you want to stick to one problem at a time.

And then here’s like a little trick, which I love, which is that people will tend to believe you if you use the word “because.” And there’s research showing that using the word “because” increases success rates by over 30%. And there’s a very famous study of somebody going to cut in line at a Xerox machine. And they come in and they say, “Can I cut in line? I need to make some copies because I’m in a hurry.” And they did a whole lot of it, because I’m late, because I want to. It didn’t matter what they said. They were always allowed to cut in line when they used the word “because.” So there’s a difference then between saying “Today I’m sharing Emilia’s story with you,” and “Today I’m sharing Emilia’s story with you because she needs help.” So just a little asking trigger to keep in mind.

The next one is flexibility. So you want to enable people with different giving capacities and different interests to all participate. So you want to alter your offer based on what your reader can afford or what your reader might be interested in. And you want to deconstruct it and break it down into chunks. So $100 pays for 4 hours of home care, $1,000 pays for 1 week of home care. And you wouldn’t ask your $100 prospect to give toward a week’s worth of care because they might feel then that their gift is insignificant. But you also want to go back to what we previously talked about, which is you want to give something to people that they can visualize. That helps them believe in it. So for the $10,000 prospect, 400 hours of home care is too hard to picture. So you might suggest they fund home care and meals for two months for one person.

And then the final trigger here is leverage, and I’ve saved the best for last here. This is my favorite one. People love to stretch their dollars and I love the multiplier effect. I love to get a challenge or matching grant if I can, because as a donor, if I know that I can double my gift, I’m really excited. And that also creates a sense of urgency for why give now. So if you don’t have a match yet for this year’s appeal, think about whether or not you can still get one. And sometimes you can ask a current donor if they will allow you to use their gift for a match or you might be able to get your board to all come together, pull their resources to put up a match. Or sometimes you can get a business who wants to have their name out there and look like they’re a good community player to give you a match and do it that way.

Another type of leverage is that people love to get a bargain. I used to work for the San Francisco Food Bank. And food banks are able to leverage your donation because much of their food is donated. So the donor can buy more food by giving a gift to the food bank than if they went to the grocery store and bought the food and brought it and delivered it. So one word of warning, if you’re using that kind of cost-bargain type of leverage, is that credibility demands truth. So double-check your facts. If you’ve been saying for the last 4 years that it cost $10 to provide 3 meals, make sure this is still true. You’ve always got to be sure that if push came to shove, you could defend what you’re saying in court.

And then the other type of leverage, which is a really good one, is the ripple effect, is that if I give money to pay for a well to be dug in Africa, an entire community will have drinkable water. If I give money to one child, their entire family will be affected.

All right. So now I want to let you take a little break because we’ve covered a lot of material and we’ve been going for a while here. And I would like to suggest that you stand up and just take a deep cleansing breath and a little stretch. And while you’re doing this, I am going to ask you to close your eyes and I am going to summarize what we have covered so far by taking you through some visualizing. So close your eyes . . . I know I can’t see you, but I want to trust you . . . and try to visualize the answers to my prompts.

I want you to picture one person or place or thing that your appeal is aiming to help or to fix or to heal . . . Okay. So I hope you’ve got one picture. Now picture one thing you want your donor to accomplish to be your hero. Now paint a picture in your mind that shows your donor what will happen after they give. A picture, not a graph, not a spreadsheet, or not a pie chart. A simple story they can visualize, a story they want to be a part of. A story to which they’re giving a happy ending. Can you capture that in a snapshot? Now write a caption under that snapshot. Now begin to write just a little heartfelt note to share the story.

After your would-be hero finishes reading what you’ve written, how are they feeling? Are they bursting with anger about a wrong that needs to be righted? Do they have a little lump in their throat? Are they feeling empathy because they can imagine something like this happening to themselves or a loved one? Is there a little smile on their face as they imagine coming to the rescue? Are they feeling emotional enough to act? Okay. Open your eyes. Sit back down. I hope that gave you a sense of what we’re trying to get at with this appeal letter or appeal email.

And now I want to move on to the seven readability triggers. Because, how your appeal looks and reads matters. Too often, we make them look very corporate and unfriendly, and to draw people in, I always go back to the basics of the friendly letter that I learned in my middle school typing class, and they still hold true. You don’t want to booby-trap your letter with tiny print and squished paragraphs and too many fonts. Part of making the appeal a positive experience for your donor is making it easy to read. So here are some seven simple rules. Simple legible fonts, serif fonts, with the little squiggly at the end of the letter are the best for text, so Courier, Times New Roman. Research shows that sans-serif typeface is four times less easy to read than serif. So you use the sans-serif for headlines and subheads and the serif for everything else.

Fourteen is the new twelve. It used to be accepted that 12-point text was readable by most people, but not anymore because boomers are aging and many of them are your major donors. And so the new recommended standard is 14 point. And yes, I know this means you cannot fit as much on a page. Flip your page over. Your donors will cheer you for saving a tree. Whatever you do, resist the temptation to forgo editing in favor of squishing your font to 11 points so that it fits.

And indent your paragraphs. Flush left is not a friendly letter. That’s a business letter. Remember, this is a conversation. The other thing about indent is that they actually invite the readers into your copy. They give the eyes a rest and our brains use indents in pattern recognition, so that’s really important to keep people reading speedily. And remember, donors have very little time that they’re going to devote to reading your letter. And if you make it too hard to read, all they will process is blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

So again, to help you want to keep your lines and your paragraphs short. Tom Ahern says the best line length is usually shy of 70 characters, including spaces. And you want to aim for no more than five lines in a paragraph, and you want to break up these paragraphs with one-liners. And details like this really do matter when people skim, which they will do. And then, to help the skimmers, you want to use subheads, boldface, italics, and underline judiciously. You don’t really know which part of the letter your donor is going to actually read so repetition is essential. You hedge your bets by putting your key messaging and ask in multiple places.

So what I like to do is consider that my letters are several letters within one letter and that if people read just the boldface, they’ll get the gist. If they read just the underline, they will get the gist. If they read just the subheads, they’ll get the gist, and so forth. So it’s like I will do the letter and then I will read everything that I’ve underlined and go is that enough? If I just read that, would I get it? Is the ask in there? Is the need in there? And if it isn’t, then I will underline something else. So repetition again is essential. Hedging your bet is essential. You can look at this more closely later.

I’ve also got an email appeal example for you, too, because that’s much shorter but you can still follow these basics. And you can still have the underlines and the boldface and stuff to help you. This one has a great opening line. It puts me in the letter right away. It says, “Dear Claire, I’m 90 years old, so let me get right to the point.” I really love that. The photo gives the appeal some credibility and there’s a testimonial, twice. Testimonials are great. That’s another one of Robert Cialdini’s principles of persuasion that’s called social proof. If somebody else is telling me this is a good cause to give to, I’m more likely to do that than if the organization is telling me. So here the writer is telling and then at the bottom, there is a testimonial from a camper saying “the support of this organization is something I wish I could have had when I was here 30 years ago as a camper, being bullied and told there was something wrong with me.” So that’s another example that you can take a bit more close of a look at later.

And the sixth and seventh readability tips are to write like you talk. So again, this gets back to it being a conversation. “No kidding! That’s really what happened. Corey couldn’t find anyone to help her. That’s why she needs your help. Yes, YOU. You can be her fairy god-parent.” What you really want to say no to are jargon and buzzwords. So you’re used to calling your organization by your acronym, but your readers aren’t. You might use words like clients and caseworkers and food insecure. Your readers don’t. Maybe everyone where you work has a PhD and is a stickler for grammar. Your readers don’t want to read a term paper.

And I know it’s really, really hard to avoid words and phrases that are ubiquitous within your culture, but no one is going to stick with your writing if you use those kinds of words and phrases, if you say “help us with capacity building.” Or here’s a line from a real fundraising letter that I received that said “Help us provide preventive educational therapeutic and supportive services emphasizing intergenerational ties and community responsibility.” That just stopped me dead in my tracks. I don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s the quintessence of all I hear is blah, blah, blah.

So read your letter out loud before you send it. And every place that you are tempted to put in a contraction, do that. If you want to begin a sentence with “And,” “But,” that is really fine. If you want to have a one word sentence, that’s fine. And if your spell check tells you you’ve got a sentence fragment you should consider revising, ignore that. You want to go back to middle school. And there’s something that many of you may be aware of called the Flesch-Kincaid score which is a built-in tool in Microsoft Word that applies a calculation to sentence length and number of three-syllable words to come up with a grade level. And the best level that you want to be at is fourth to sixth grade.

And the important thing about this is to understand this is not about education. It’s about ease of comprehension. Low grade-level copy is not talking down to readers or treating them like children. You really have to think of it as a form of courtesy, like enunciating clearly when you talk. And copy that is fourth- to sixth-grade level is barrier free and can be read quickly and comprehended easily by all adult readers. If you go much above that, it takes extra concentration and a reader who is in a hurry is going to have trouble comprehending and will be more likely to skim or stop reading. So short sentences, action words. “Help Julie go to college.” “Build a well in Africa.” “Get Sharon and her two young kids off the street.” Use the active voice. Action begets more action.

So I bet you could go back into last year’s appeal and see where you could reduce a three-sentence paragraph to a succinct sentence. The key is to simplify. And Jeff Brooks suggests that you remove the first one to three paragraphs of your letter. And you would be amazed, this works almost every time. Almost every writer, including me, spends the opening paragraph or so warming up before we get down to the real work.

The other thing that you can eliminate is the word “that.” So not every time but most of the time, sentences like “I hope that you will give . . . ” usually go better without “that.” “I hope you’ll give.” Adverbs, you can get rid of almost all of them. They seldom make your verb any stronger. Adjectives, pare them back. A good adjective can earn its keep, but most of them don’t. So take out all the complicated background material. Some details are good, that they add some color, they add some specificity, and some authenticity. But too many make the copy hard to understand and remove the focus from the important stuff. So I know you’ve written this beautiful letter, but don’t hoard all those beautiful words because you don’t need them.

And now, on to your two bonus tips to start and end with a bang. The first one I’ve given to you already, which is to include the story photo and a caption. This is where I begin. If I don’t have a photo to illustrate the story, I find another story. People look at photos before text and if you can grab attention with a compelling photo that tells your story, you’re way ahead of the game. A picture really is worth 1,000 words. It’s a great shortcut. Add a caption and you’ve almost got the entire purpose of your appeal.

So what kind of photos? People always ask “happy or sad?” There is no one answer to this. It really depends on you and your cause and your organization and it’s something worth testing. But what I tend to do as a general rule is sad photos or neutral expression photos in the appeal where I’m suggesting there’s a problem and happy photos on the landing page or the remit piece where people are checking off “Yes, I really want to help.” But test this for yourself. And kids are really good, animals are really good. Kids holding animals are dynamite.

And then the bonus for the end, P.S. is your most valuable real estate. Ninety percent of people read the P.S. first, and there are eye motion-tracking studies that show we go from the salutation to the photo over at the right and then right down to the P.S. and the signature. So if you write your P.S. first, that will often force you to write a compelling appeal that includes all the elements of a compelling fundraising offer. Or write your letter and then go back through it, or if you’re the editor, go through it, and pull out your most important message, the most important thing you have to say, and move that to the P.S. to assure that that is seen.

So this P.S. says “I can’t say it enough, there’s a $200,000 match at stake. We can’t maximize it without your help.” So right there, the urgency is there. One of the rewards for giving is there. “Please renew your support” . . . it’s reminding you right there that you’ve given before . . . “and help Madhu secure a brighter future for her family.” I would have probably made that a little bit more specific but it’s not bad. It’s got a benefit in there and it sums up the story’s happy ending, which is that the donor is going to make this brighter future possible. So I really can’t say this enough, put a P.S. in your letter. I’m really astounded by the number of nonprofits who ignore this most valuable piece of real estate.

With just a quick summary is to cram your appeal with donor benefits. You want to connect based on their values, something that’s relevant to their values. And the more you know about what they value, the easier this is to do, which is why you should do surveys annually, why you should enter data in your database about how folks allocate their gifts, why you should notice what articles they click on when you send your e-newsletter or your blog. Connect. Reward your donor. Reward them for being a good, generous, moral, caring person. Remember, contemplating giving brings a dopamine rush. That’s very rewarding. Offer an action that they can take, a specific action that will bring them the reward that they are seeking. This is empowering. This is a way that they can be the change they want to be in the world. And give them a memory, especially a compelling story or a photo that sticks with them, makes them want to tell others, and share their passion and their compassion.

And then a summary on what goes into an offer that can’t be refused. Don’t feel bad, don’t feel awkward about making your ask specific to address a genuine pressing need. It’s your job to make a passionate ask, to paint a visual picture, to tell a compelling story, one that your donor wants to be a part of. Then they’re not going to refuse you. Remember that giving is good for people. The MRI scientists have discovered that when people give to help others, they feel really good. The parts of their midbrain that control cravings for food and sex light up. It’s just like having a piece of chocolate. And there’s a great article in “The Wall Street Journal” called “Hard-Wired for Giving” that gives you more on the science if you’re interested.

So say no to sentences like “every little bit helps.” Ask specifically for what you need. And know that you’re not leaving donors poorer and upset, you’re leaving them richer and emotionally fulfilled. If you do this right, both you and your donor will leave smiling.

So I want to take some questions now and I also just want to thank you again for being here, for doing the important work that you do to make our world and our communities and our people stronger. I want to thank you if you are already a member of Clairification School. If not, please check out my website. You can also get a free “Thank You Calls E-Book and Script” there, which you’re going to need if you get all these donors with your compelling appeal. I hope you’ll enroll in Clairification School. And now Steven, let’s take some questions.

Steven:Yeah, that was awesome, Claire. Wow, that was full of so many good things. This is great. Thank you, Claire. You’re spending lots of your time educating us, so thanks for being here, a lot of good stuff. I just hate that struggle with food security lingo. Man, that really resonated with me, I hate that phrase.

Claire:Yeah, yes.

Steven:Well, we’ve got some questions here and I know we told people we were going to go to about 4:30 Eastern, so we can probably do maybe 10, 15 minutes of questions. Boy, lots of good ones and if you have not sent one in, please do. We’ll try to get your question at least to Claire, offline as well. Claire, what about donors at different giving levels, do all of these sort of best practices and all your tips apply, whether you’re asking a $5,000 donor versus a $25 donor? Or do you think that segmenting by maybe gift amount is something you consider?

Claire:Yeah. Well, definitely segmenting by gift amount makes sense. All of these tips apply to donors at every level. The more that you can sort of target and make it feel that you’re having a personal conversation with the person, of course, the better. Usually you’re not going to ask for a $5,000 gift in a letter. Usually you’re going to do that face to face. But if you are asking for a $1,000 gift, you’re going to want to at least describe a problem that costs that amount of money. So yes, segment by amount.

One of the things that I mentioned is I like to send all the board members something that recognizes that I know they’re a board member and that they know this stuff, so that it doesn’t seem like, “Well this is a canned letter. Like are they not knowing how much I already know?” So as a parent, you understand. That stuff is important. And also if somebody has indicated to me that they always want to give . . . I used to work for a comprehensive social services agency. So we had programs for seniors and for children and for individual single adults. And if someone insists “I only want to help children,” then I better send them a letter that talks about a child and not something else, or they’ll think I’m not paying attention to them.

Steven:Yup, yup, makes a lot of sense. Here’s one from my buddy Martha here in Indian and a lot of people asked a variation of this question. What about organizations that maybe don’t necessarily have that sort of mission that creates a sense of urgency, like maybe disaster relief or a disease or starvation, things like that? What about people that are just doing good programs, obviously, and great missions, but maybe don’t have those sort of life or death type situations? Any advice for those people?

Claire:Right, right. Yeah. So you have to always . . . you can always come up with a reason that you need the money now. It’s why one of my favorite things is the leverage, the challenge, because you’ve got a challenge and it’s going to, if you don’t give by whatever date, the challenge is going away. So I always like to try to get challenges. The other thing is just sometimes you might have a goal. Like we have a waiting list of X number of people for this program and if we don’t raise this money by this date, we’re going to have to turn them away. The same thing if you’re just trying to expand a program. So that’s kind of, it’s a way of demonstrating the need and also, of course, you have a budgeting issue yourself. Like you really are not going to be able to do that program if you don’t have money for it. Which is why I don’t like the generic appeal, which is just give money to support us, whenever.

Steven:Right. Right. That makes sense.

Claire:Because that is very easy for me to turn away. But as I told a story about a specific person who maybe is going to come to our afterschool program, and then I’m able to say, you know, “We have a waiting list of this many people for this program and if we don’t hear from you by this date, we’re not going to be able to help them.”

Steven:Got it. What about the opposite side of the coin, people dealing with very sensitive issues and they struggle with perhaps, using photographs of service recipients, program recipients for confidentiality issues or maybe just the graphic nature of the mission that they are trying to alleviate? What about those people? Is it just simply stock photography that conveys the same message but doesn’t actually, isn’t actually a photo of a real person that you’re helping? Any advice for those folks?

Claire:Yeah. So you can do that. You can use a stock photo that is evocative. And you can use a caption that, rather than using the name of the person, is like . . . I’m trying to think of what I would put. You know, girls are being sold into the sex trade as young as age seven. And then you’ve got a photo of a girl. And then you can tell a story that is a composite story and you can put at the bottom of the letter names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality. But you can do a composite of the types of people that you serve.

Steven:Yup. That makes sense. Claire, we’ve had a lot of people ask about the envelope, the actual delivery mechanism for all these great letters. Any tips on design, layout, any kind of quick dos and don’ts there?

Claire:Yeah. Okay. So there are a number of different ways that you can go. My absolute favorite way to go is a combination of two things. One is that it’s a plain envelope and it doesn’t have your organization’s name and logo on it. It probably has your address, but what I really like to do is have the address and then have enough space at the top where a volunteer note writer who adds a little note to the appeal could put their name over the address. So I would put Claire Axelrad and then it’s got the organization’s address which probably most people don’t know. And then there’s a note from me inside. And that’s another tip that really, really ramps up the response rates. If you can put a little personal note from someone that says, “This is a fabulous cause, I hope you’ll join us,” or “Glad you attended our gala this year. I hope you can join our campaign this year.” It’s best, of course, if you know the person and ask your board members whenever they give you names of people are you willing to add a note. But even if you don’t, you can sign it as “I volunteer here, it’s awesome. I hope you’ll join, too.” And that really will increase your response rate by . . . I’ve seen it go from like 2% to 34%. So it’s a huge good tip.

And so anyway, the plain envelope and then the combination is a brightly colored envelope. Because, when that comes in, in the mailbox, it sticks out and it looks like a fun thing. It looks like an invitation and it doesn’t even have to match the colors of your appeal inside. So a color envelope that’s plain, I love. Teasers can work too, but the teaser has to be a good one. It has to be something that maybe starts a story that you’re going to really want to see what the ending is to or it asks a provocative question that you’re going to want to know the answer to. Everybody gets those things in the mail that say “the top 10 foods to avoid eating,” and of course you want to open that to see. So it has to be something that really is intriguing, not something like your organization’s tagline. That’s not intriguing.

Steven:Right. What about . . . so a lot of people have asked a variation of this question and so I’m going to kind of condense a few. You’ve said a couple of times of focusing on maybe a specific need or a specific project. A couple of people have asked does that really lock you into that fund designation? In other words, if you build that expectation that that’s how the funds are going to be used for and then for some reason maybe it goes somewhere else, is that something you should worry about or maybe you want to communicate to donors? How much are you actually walking them into a designation?

Claire:Yeah. I think . . . Yeah. You can tell a specific story and also have a very brief paragraph that mentions that you have all these other services, too. So that your gift helps people like Alicia and the hundreds of children, families, and elderly who call on us for help each year, that sort of thing. And also sometimes your remit . . . and I’ve done this many times . . . I will tell one story maybe about a child, but the remit piece will have choices of you can allocate for children’s services, senior services, homeless services. This is for a comprehensive social service agency, of course. But you can do it with any organization where you give people the opportunity to designate on your remit piece.

And the opportunities, people say, “Oh we only want unrestricted giving.” I would suggest that you break down your unrestricted giving into buckets. So even though the people are designating, what they’re giving is the functional equivalent of an unrestricted gift because you’re going to spend that money anyway. I have never had it so that I got way too much money in one thing and not enough. People tend to spread out across things and a vast majority of people will do “use where most needed” anyway. And then the people who do designate, that’s really good information to have because the people who designate tend to actually be easier to renew and easier to upgrade. And it’s easier for you to report back to them on something that they’re specifically passionate about.

Steven:That makes sense. Along the same lines, a couple of people, a couple of, three people here . . . Amy, Mindy, I’m going to kind of address your questions now . . . they struggle with quantifying a dollar amount to an actual deliverable. So it looks like Mindy’s organization is kind of an advocacy group. Amy’s org isn’t able to say “$20 provides 10 meals or $50 saves 100 birds.” What about organizations that don’t really have like a tangible deliverable if that makes sense, what advice would you have for them to maybe quantify or justify suggested gift amounts?

Claire:I guess the first thing I would say is try. First, rethink that, because . . .

Steven:Yeah, because you still have services, so you should be able to do something, I suppose.

Claire:Right. Yeah. You could break it down, figure out what the cost of an hour of service is. But if you can’t do it, then I wouldn’t go that route on the remit piece. I wouldn’t say X buys X. I might try something like we’re trying to raise this much money for cancer warning labels. They must know how much the cancer warning labels are going to cost.


Claire:So we’re trying to raise this much and we’re reaching out to all of our friends. If everyone gives an average of this much, we will be able to do this. Please let us know no later than this date. You’re just trying to . . . people want to know. They have no idea. They actually will not give because they’re afraid that you’re going to think that they’re cheap or that . . . you know?


Claire:Like, what? They only sent $25? They also will not give because they’re going to think you’re going to think they’re a chump. “Oh my gosh, this person sent $1,000, you know, wow.” Like they just want to be in the ballpark.


Claire:So there’s got to be a way that you have a goal of what you’re trying to make possible. It just can’t be this ephemeral thing like “If we put cancer warning labels, then we could save a billion lives.” That’s not credible. Like you have to have some research on which you’re basing this or some kind of experience. So really kind of think about that. Usually there is something that you’ve got, but you just don’t tend to talk about it a lot or really think about it. But if you had to quantify it, you could. It’s just like your own personal budget. If somebody is overspending and somebody says, “You need to keep track of everything that you spend,” and people are like “Oh my gosh, that’s impossible. I can’t do that.” Or they’re like “I have no idea what I spend my money on, but . . . ” You have to focus in on it. Just try to get a handle on what the cost of your service is and what the impact of that service is because people want to know that.

Steven:It seems like maybe there’s something there with Mindy’s example of this many people are getting cancer from this product. We want to prevent that. But that’s a tough one, Mindy. Keep in touch with us because we might be able to drill down deeper into that offline if Claire doesn’t mind.

Claire:Exactly. No, I don’t mind.

Steven:Well, cool. Wow, this 90 minutes really flew by. I can barely believe we covered all this ground so quickly. Claire, any final thoughts before we call it a day here? We’ve got your contact information here on the screen. Anything that you want to say as a parting shot?

Claire:Well, I do hope that you guys will all enroll in Clairification School. It’s just 27 cents a day and I give you like tons of practical advice like this and articles throughout the year. And you get some webinars and you get product discounts and all that stuff. And if I could do it all completely for free, I would, because my motto is “If I know it, I want you to know it.” There are so many problems in this world today. I want to see them all get solved. So I’m so glad that you are all out there, fighting the good fight. I want to help.

And so stay in touch with me and just remember that a good fundraising appeal is not holding a gun to somebody’s head. It’s an offer to join you in making the world a better, more caring place. And you don’t have to do direct service to make an appeal. Whatever you’re doing, just focus in on how is that helping. If somebody did this and joined us, how is that helping? What is their reward? What is the impact of what they’re doing? There’s always an impact, even if you are not providing that direct service. Even if you’re indirectly making it happen, your donor cares about the impact, the change.

Steven:Well, I could not have said it better myself. We’ll leave it at that. Thanks, Claire, this was really awesome having you. And thanks to all of you for hanging out with us for so long. We had a pretty big audience today. So I’m always happy about that and I know it’s a busy time of the year. You’re probably really trying to get these appeals out the door. So hopefully this was helpful and maybe you were able to make some tweaks or changes to bolster those things. So thank you all. We’re going to be sending out all the recording and slide here this afternoon. I’ll get that in your hands today.

But do sign up for Claire’s blog, reach out to her by email if we didn’t get to your question. I know there were a lot in here and I’m so sorry we couldn’t get to all of them, but obviously she’s a great resource for you. She’s even going to join us for BloomCon in February in Phoenix. So if you are in the Southwest area, we’re going to have two BloomCons next year, one West Coast, one East Coast. This is the first one on the West Coast, check that out. We’ve got special pricing going on right now. It’s going to be really fun conference. We’ve got Adrian Sargeant, Claire, of course, Kivi Leroux Miller, and Kent Stroman, nice lineup.

And we’ve got a great webinar series continuing next week, one week from today. We’ve got Sarah Durham, which is really my go-to person for nonprofit branding. And she’s going to talk about how to align your nonprofit’s brand with the services and programs that you offer. So if you feel like maybe that’s not an alignment or you’re not sure or never thought about it, check this one out. It’s going to be really cool session. Sarah’s great, one of my favorites, for sure, totally free. Hopefully we’ll see you next week, but if not, look for that email from me. I’ll get that out the door here in just a couple of minutes with the recording and the slides and hopefully we’ll see you next week. But have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a safe weekend, and we’ll talk to you soon.

annual fundraising appeal

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.