Annual appeal season is like the Super Bowl for nonprofits. From organizing events to marketing your nonprofit, you’ve been working all year and now’s the time to show your donors why you’re the team worthy of their top dollars. Unlike writing grants, your annual appeal is all about storytelling.
Sharing how well you performed fiscally is important, but it’s not the most important. Jeff Brooks put it best when he said, “Donors give to express their values, not to your organization.”
So, to help you reach your year-end goals, we’ve worked up a list of tips to help you capture donor’s hearts and convert sentiments into cents!
“Donors don’t give to institutions. They invest in ideas and people in whom they believe …”
~ G.T Smith
A study conducted by marketing professor Deborah Small at Wharton evaluated two donor “asks”. The first explaining what your dollars would go to on a global scale for ending hunger in Malawi. The second told the story of a single girl, Rokia, who lived in Malawi. It detailed how the donations would directly improve the quality of her life.
The results of her study showed that donors were overwhelmingly drawn to the story of Rokia, and chose to donate based off of that. The conclusion— appeals to the heart are more successful than the head.
While your organization may be doing a bunch of wonderful things focusing on one story: one child, family, individual, will resonate more with an audience. Tackling world hunger is daunting, and a problem that large may feel too big to solve. But learning about how one child no longer goes hungry to school? That’s something you can feel confident about putting your dollars behind.
While you may be sending out hundreds, even thousands of annual appeal letters, it’s important to add as many personal touches as you can. At the most basic level, make sure your donor management software allows you to input the donor’s name through custom fields.
But feel free to take it a step further. Mention how much a donor has contributed in the past. If they donated around the holidays, invite them to pledge monthly to sustain their impact throughout the year. If you have record that they’ve volunteered with you before, thank them again for it!
If a donor feels like you see them as a person, not a check, it will strengthen the bond and result in a higher probability of creating a lifelong supporter.
Just because this is an ask doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time out of the letter to thank your donors for what they’ve done for you in the past. Nobody is required to make charitable contributions.
Being a patron of your organization naturally sets donors above and beyond the call of duty. Taking every opportunity to thank them for that is important.
Put it in the context of your own work: what is it like never receiving positive feedback? It feels pretty cruddy, and you’re actually being paid to do those things. As a donor, there’s no limit to expressing gratitude.
This tip is worth calling out because it’s not always the most natural to write in the second person. Especially knowing your letter is going to many people, but you want it to only feel like it’s going to one.
However, research has shown that involving the donor with your choice of tenses has a huge impact on how connected they feel to your ask.
“We’re in this,” “we want to work with you,” so on and so forth. The second person is the easiest way to promote the BOY (Because of You) mentality that makes donors feel important. “Because of you, X children now have school lunch….” Not only does it make the donor feel good and important, it instills a sense of urgency that operations won’t continue without their donation.
While the goal is to have people donate as much as possible, having tiers that focus giving is a great way to make sure you don’t come in under what you need. A great way to give people a framework to understand your operating costs is by putting your ask into context.
Consider the difference between these two solicitations:
In the second example, you’re showing the donor what they “get” with their investment and the direct impact that has on a local level.
While donors can often appreciate a cohesive message, it also benefits you as an organization to operate your entire year-end campaign with a theme in mind. Themes help you to stay focused on one singular message or purpose (something we’ve indicated is important several times already).
Think about your big fundraising events, would you host your annual luncheon without a singular message used to package it all? Theming your mailer from start to finish (including photos, general appearance, and message) will make it seem like the big deal that it is. This fanfare can inspire donations, specifically pledges, when they might otherwise be reserved for times like the holidays of bequests.
When you’re in fundraising mode it’s easy to default to telling people about what you need. Following along with the psychology of the donor that we’ve established thus far, it doesn’t exactly benefit you to go down the route. Instead, you should focus your ask on the potential benefits of donating. This keeps things positive and fosters a more inspiring environment that makes people actually want to give.
For example, instead of saying “we’re in desperate need of funds for children’s medical costs, without it they will perish” phrase it like this: “by donating $100 you can help pay for medication for a child who’s waiting for it now. That’s one family who will know their child’s chemo is covered and they’re a step closer to remission.”
You have so much information to share and seemingly so little space to include it all. We know you may want to pack your letter with text and pictures from end to end, but that’s never the way to go. When it comes to donor communication white space is your friend.
White space is important for making sure your letter doesn’t look overwhelming, but it’s also a great tool for drawing readers attention in a nonintrusive way. YOU DON’T NEED TO DO THIS to get attention when you could just…
White space, used sparingly, is a great natural call-out for your most relevant and memorable material.
With any donor communication, it’s important to keep your writing simple and easy to understand. As a rule of thumb, you’re encouraged to write so that a middle schooler could read and understand your communications.
With your annual appeal, it’s especially important that you favor simple and emotional words over complex and intelligent turns of phrase. This mailer is going out to perhaps your broadest audience yet, so special care should be taken to ensure it’s your most inclusive and accessible copy.
With 28% of nonprofits raising between 26-50% of their annual funds from their year-end ask, the pressure is on to perform. But with a strong story, passion for your cause, and some help from our nonprofit marketing guide among other sources, we have all the faith that you’ll soar above and beyond your goals!
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