'Tis the season for EDs and Development Directors to begin crafting their organization's year-end campaign. If you are like most, your campaign will include an appeal letter from the ED or Board Chair that will walk the fine line between, "Look at how amazing we are!" and "Please, please, please give us money so we can keep the lights on. Please."
If you have ever written such a letter–or had to sign it, fold it, and stuff it in a handwritten envelope 200+ times–you know how much work goes into this aspect of your campaign. Given your investment of time, energy, and papercuts, shouldn't you get a great a return?
Before you waste any more paper and ink on a lackluster, formulaic appeal letter, check out this list of ways to upgrade your correspondence and receive more contributions in return.
1. Name Names
Fundraising is ultimately about building relationships. But it is difficult to cultivate a relationship with someone if your letter greets them with a generic salutation, such as Dear Friend or Dear Donor. Moreover, the psychology of giving tells us that folks are more likely to open their wallets if they feel like they, and they alone, are being asked to give. If they perceive they are part of a group of people being asked–as a generic letter might imply–they will just leave it up to other people to donate.
Presumably, if someone is on your mailing list, you have their name. You can use mail merge in Microsoft Word to create and print personalized letters. The additional expense of printing these letters versus copying them en masse at your local office supply store is a worthwhile endeavor.
2. Show, Don't Tell
Instead of telling your recipients that your program has enriched the community in some way, how about showing them through storytelling? Stories have the power to inspire and motivate people to act, in a way that statistics cannot. To wit:
3. Don't Ask for a Donation
I know. This sounds counter-intuitive. Hear me out. Instead of asking your dear reader to "make a tax-deductible contribution" to your organization, invite them to join you in the good work you are doing. For example:
4. Make It Easy to Give
Easy is subjective, of course, but you should offer your recipients at least two ways to give. Whatever methods you might suggest, you should facilitate those processes as much as possible.
For example, many people still prefer the old standby of writing checks, so you ought to include a return envelope. I once heard a seasoned fundraiser say that not including an envelope is like putting a pool of crocodiles between the donor and their contribution.
For other people though, writing a check requires an act of Congress, and possibly an errand to buy stamps. Yet more pools of crocodiles! Consider alerting them to an online or mobile giving option.
Bonus: Put 'You' Before 'We'
Here's something that might put a little spring in your step today: it's all about you! Well, not you per se, but 'you' as in the person to whom you are writing. It is very easy to fall down the rabbit hole of "we did this and we did that; we will do this and we hope to do that." In the examples I offered above, I modeled this best practice as much as possible. Sometimes a 'we' is unavoidable, but you should try to make the letter about the recipient and the positive impact they can have their community.
What am I missing? Share your best practices for writing appeal letters in the comments below. Your questions are welcome, too!