10 Tips to Raise More Money With Your Next Fundraising AppealMar 14, 2022
Tip 1: Merge Fields Are Your Friend
There is absolutely no excuse to not mail merge letters or merge in someone’s first name into an email. This technology has been around for two decades and is commonplace with all email services. You can even do it in Gmail using third-party plugins like GMass. If you say “Dear Friend” and you keep it a distant vague relationship, then the donor will feel the same thing about you.
Bonus: Get creative with your merge fields, merge in the year they first gave, or use that to calculate the number of years they’ve been supporting you. Mention in the letter the designation of their last gift to make it seem more personal.
Tip 2: Segment Your Lists
We get a better result when writing letters to a specific audience. “All Contacts” is not specific enough. If you want to increase the response to your appeals, you will want to speak directly to your audience’s heart.
An example could be donors vs. non-donors so you can say “as a supporter” or “maybe this would be a good opportunity for your first gift.”
Bonus: Get more specific and send 3+ variations of your letter. Some narrower audiences may be: current donors vs. lapsed donors, monthly donors and annual gives, current donors vs. lapsed donors, etc. If you are a school it could be current families vs past families. A hospital could segment people by the specialist they last received treatment from (oncology, cardiology, pediatrics) - a grateful patient letter specific to that specialty will be much more powerful.
Tip 3: Tell a Story
Stories make the work that you do tangible and relatable. Stories should illustrate the impact of your work. Stories should also praise the donors, making them feel that this was their doing. We cannot make up a story for you, but we put in the framework for you to be able to add the impact into your appeal letter. Start with where the person was before they encountered your organization, what happened when they met your organization, and where they are now. Get a quote or two from the recipient of your services.
Bonus: Get a testimonial on video, even if it’s a cellphone video. It adds to the credibility.
Tip 4: Use Clear Language
Sometimes we try really hard not to offend anyone, so we use nuance or imply certain things. For your website, where those you serve may be coming to get information, you may choose to be more nuanced, but in a brief fundraising letter, you want to be very clear. I would choose “low-income” over “income-eligible” and “tuition-free” over “all-scholarship” every time.
Many organizations need to be careful because those they serve and those they are soliciting for money have two different objectives. I always think about the complexities that a crisis pregnancy center needs to walk. Their ideal client is considering an abortion and the ideal donor is offended by abortion. That can make a message on the website very difficult to navigate. If you plan on using language that may offend either those you serve or those you are soliciting for funds, it’s best to careful how and where you distribute that information and the exact language you use.
Bonus: You do not always have to tell people how to donate. If you have a donate link in your letter you do not need to add the words “please use the remittance enclosed to make your donation - it’s pretty obvious.
Tip 5: Format Your Letter
Having a letter that is easy to read and is not over-designed makes it more likely people will read your letter. The more people who read your letter, the more people will respond.
Some formatting tips:
- Keep your appeal to two pages or front and back.
- Leave “white space.”
- Space your lines out, so it’s easier to read.
- Use an easy-to-read font.
- Make the font size at least 11 or 12 points.
- Use headers to break up sections.
- Use short sentences and short paragraphs to bring points home.
- Bold or underline a few things to make it easy to get the main points by browsing.
- Keep the colors easy to see, especially for older people.
- Keep ONE, that’s right, one singular call to action per piece - for an appeal that should be “donate.”
Bonus: Sometimes I use the PS to add in something else (even another call to action) if I feel like it's important, but remember that the PS is the most read part of a letter. One pro-tip is to include in your PS a call to action to visit a section on your site where your giving page is - maybe the campaign-specific web page in Tip 7. If they will not visit the page to donate maybe they will go to "read more stories like this" or "watch a video about XYZ" and happen to see a giving page immediately below that content.
Tip 6: Use Multiple Platforms to Deliver Your Letter
I always recommend that all your appeals go out across multiple platforms if they are essential to your organization. You can repurpose your letter in many ways, but you can always put your appeal out in snail mail, email, social media, and your website.
Here are a few tips on how to make the most of your platforms:
- Send your designed appeal by snail mail with a remittance envelope.
- Send the same letter by email with a similar design and a giving button. If the letter is too long for an email, make a more abbreviated version for email.
- Pull out the story online with an abbreviated ask for social media and link to the giving page. Post 2-3 times about the appeal over the course of a few weeks.
Tip 7: Brand Your Giving Page and Remittance Envelopes to the Appeal
Create a unique giving page for your appeal. Make the look and feel similar to your direct mail and email letter. A consistent experience helps your donors feel like their giving is going to the place they intend it to go and avoids people clicking away. This also helps with segmenting donors based upon the appeal that they gave to!
Bonus: Customize the URL and webpage for people to visit when to give and have more details on that page about giving. Then, on all your communications about your campaign, you can send people to a short, easy-to-remember URL. YourURL.com/AppealName.
Tip 8: Show Those Smiling Faces
The visuals of an appeal are really essential. Nothing goes further in raising funds than smiling faces and happy people.
Bonus: As previously mentioned, make a little video. If that’s too difficult, it’s not easy to make your image into a gif and it still stands out more than a standard photo.
Tip 9: Time Your Appeal Appropriately (Ask to Touchpoint Ratio)
One of the best ways to ensure you have a good response on your appeals is to be sure the audience has had enough touchpoints (that’s non-ask interactions) prior to you asking. If it’s been a while since you’ve asked, but you have not communicated consistently since your last appeal, delay a few weeks and give an update or two about your last appeal before asking again.
Bonus: In a perfect world there are at least 3 to 4 non-ask communications before you ask again. You need to earn the right to ask for the next gift.
10: Re-Send Emails to Unopens
In MailChimp, Constant Contact, and other reputable email providers, there is an option to re-send your email to those who did not open it within a certain period of time (usually 24-48 hours). Check that box and let them do the work for you. Literally why not? There is no downside. I have seen a 10% increase in response rates since clients have been utilizing that feature. You’re not bothering the prospect if they did not read it the first time.
If you are interested, I offer a free template for your next appeal. This appeal template follows all these best practices and offers sample content to get you to the best possible result. It includes Canva templates for direct mail, email, and social media.