Frightfully Good Fundraising, Part 3: Bring Your Appeals to Life

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It’s a dark, stormy night. A fundraiser sits in an office, piecing together an appeal for an upcoming campaign. She’s stooped over her keyboard, assembling various parts—an intro paragraph here, a photo there, a call to action over there.

Lightning flashes in the distance as the fundraiser sits back and surveys her work. Could it be? Yes! It’s… IT’S… ALIIIIIIIIIVE!

Ahem.

If you’ve ever written a fundraising appeal, you know how hard it can be to find that hard-to-define spark that turns a humdrum appeal into a beautiful letter that inspires donors to give. Next time you feel like an appeal is dull and lifeless, ask yourself these questions:

What Story Am I Telling?

Are you listing your accomplishments? Is your organization the main character in your story? Could your appeal’s story be presented as a news brief without anyone knowing? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, your first step is to change your story.

You’d never sit down with a child and start a story by saying, “This month, my nonprofit organization provided services to thousands of individuals in the tri-county area.” Don’t do that to your donors, either!

Instead, tell stories about:

  • A client who overcame an obstacle
  • A volunteer who made a difference
  • A board member whose life was changed when they joined your team
  • A donor whose gift made a difference
  • Your reader, who makes your work possible

People don’t want to read stories about organizations. They want to read stories about other people! Make your appeal more appealing (ha, get it?) by changing your focus.

What Do I Want My Readers to Do?

Have you ever listened to anyone tell a story that, instead of inspiring or entertaining you, made you think, “Cool story, bro?”

We all have! It’s not fun. At the end of your appeal, you do not want your donors to lean back and think, “Okay… cool story, bro.”

You want them to act!

Figure out what you want your donors to do. Then tell them. You don’t have to soften your appeal or dance around it. Just tell them what you need!

Do you need volunteers? Tell them. Need them to donate to you? Tell them. Want them to attend your gala? Tell them!

A great appeal doesn’t end when a reader sets your letter on their dining room table or deletes it from their inbox. It ends when your reader is inspired to act… and then does it. You can’t inspire people to act if they have no idea what you want them to do. Write your appeal in a way that makes them excited about getting involved, then tell them what to do.

Does My Appeal Look Lifeless?

Reading is easier when the format looks nice. If you want to breathe life into an appeal, it’s a good idea to revisit its appearance. Some elements to consider are:

  • Is the page crowded? Can you lighten it up by removing extraneous elements or making the appeal more than one page?
  • Are there pictures that help connect readers to your cause on an emotional level?
  • Is it easy to read? Could you make it easier to read by adding white space, making text bold for important pieces, or changing the size of the margins?
  • If you’re sending your appeal through the mail, is the envelope eye-catching? Or will it blend in with junk mail and bills?
  • If you’re sending your appeal through email, is the subject line interesting? Will readers be excited to see it in their inboxes?

Your story is beautiful, and you want to use it to move your readers to action. To do that, you need to make them want to read it in the first place!

Those three questions will help you bring life to your next appeal. Now, don your safety goggles and lab coat—it’s time to get to work!

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