How to Write a Knockout Fundraising Appeal

For most of us in fundraising, autumn doesn't signal a blissful season of pumpkin spiced lattes and signals the land slide of work as our organization prepares to solicit - and receive - end of year donations.

This causes most of us to start sprouting gray hairs as we find creative ways to write appeals that balance urgency with holiday cheer...all while trying to stand out from the crowd.

Fortunately, at ICG, we do all of this on the regular, and this year, we want to share with you four quick tricks that we've learned to make your appeal a KO.

1. Pick a Theme

This is step one. It should be a one-sentence statement that summarizes a part of your work that will be compelling or interesting to your audience of prospective donors. It will guide your letters, emails, or communications. For example:

"Help us show the orphaned children of Haiti that they have not been forgotten this holiday season."

"Open your heart - and your home - to a shelter pet, and give them a holiday season they will never forget."

"Every family, no matter their background or life circumstances, deserves to be able to share in the holiday giving season with their children. Help us make it happen."

Sometimes using themes may feel cheesy, but I encourage you to  use them - because THEY WORK. They pull at the heart strings, and they give the reader a taste of why giving to your organization is crucial. 

2. Create a Narrative

Every good story needs a beginning, middle, and an end. This is also true for appeals, and the best way to tell a compelling story is to use a real world story. Pick one of your beneficiaries who had a success through your organization, regardless of whether or not it was a person, animal, organization, or small business. Use pictures to help engage the reader and SHOW them the impact that your organization makes. Keep your theme in mind as you write up the success story and weave in elements of it throughout your narrative.

3. Add Giving Levels

As the saying goes, ask and ye shall receive. This was never more true than in fundraising. You must always have a solid ask to make of your reader/perspective donor, and the most compelling way to do that is to "operationalize" their gift into giving levels. For example:

"Your donation today will help us to provide gift of new toys, food, school uniforms and more for the orphans in Haiti this holiday season. 

$10 gives one child a new plush toy and book.

$25 supplies a new school uniform for one of our children.

$50 covers the cost of one month of schooling for a child.

$100 provides a month of housing and meals for one of the children we serve."

Providing donors with the tangible outcomes of what their donation will accomplish is one of the most sure-fire ways to increase their giving likelihood. It transforms a gift from a fuzzy concept into something they can touch that has obvious value to you beneficiaries.  

4. Develop an Intriguing Subject Line

I had a writing professor who used to say, "always reel them in with a sexy hooker," which was his cheeky and very memorable way of reminding us that first lines matter. A LOT. Intriguing subject lines will result in someone opening an email or a letter who would not otherwise have done so - and that alone is half the battle.

However, don't get sucked into thinking that vague and unclear "click bait" type subject lines will work. Research shows that donors appreciate straightforward, clear subject lines that let them know what to expect. Here are some examples:

"Your Help Will be Her Greatest Gift"

"Rufus begs: don't let 2016 end without lending a paw!"

"Your gift will provide more than holiday toys, it will give this family joy"

Each of these makes it clear that there is an ask waiting within, and hints at the narrative as well. It also connects to the theme of the appeal, all of which tickle the brain, pluck the heart strings, and increase giving.

5. Say Thank You

Donor stewardship is the golden ticket to future giving. So ALWAYS say thank you as soon as a gift comes in. Some organizations ask board members or volunteers to call and thank donors, while others prefer to send a quick note from the program manager or ED. Choose whatever strategy is best for your organization and your donors. 

We at ICG hope you find this helpful, and we urge you to start getting your annual appeal ready...well, today. These things take time and there are always hiccups along the way. So, carpe diem and use these tools to take your end of year giving to the next level! And should you ever need some inspiration, don't hesitate to let us help