We hate to be the ones to burst your bubble, but now is the perfect time to start thinking strategically about your Fall fundraising appeals—queue the eye rolls, we’ll wait ’til you’re ready.
Okay, are you good? Let’s keep going.
Once the season really starts up and you’ve got programs to administer, possibly new staff to train, or even intermittent special events to plan and the last thing anyone is thinking about is how to deal with asking for money… in a letter… sometimes to strangers. In fact, most organizations that are strapped for time and resources just reuse some iteration of last year’s appeal (which was some iteration of the letter the year before). But you’re still standing, which means there are people giving. The real question you need to ask yourself is are you leaving money on the table? Consider those who routinely give. How can you grow their recurring gift?
We all know there are a lot of different ways you make your communications a little more punchy and eye-catching (which are both great things), but today we’re going to focus on the basics: starting at the beginning. This is for those of you who send one-off letters and wait for checks to roll in. It’s all about changing your approach from the outset.
What kind of campaign is this?
Decide what kind of appeal you’re doing and then start figuring out what types of information you’ll need to provide.
If you’re looking to acquire new donors, these people are strangers to your organization. You’ll need to let your readers know who you are and what you’re asking for early on. Then begin building trust with them, perhaps by citing some achievements or some statistics. Explain why you matter and forge a meaningful connection with them. Establish a reasonable sense of urgency, but do so with purpose. How did you acquire this list? Do these individuals share a common interest that relates to your organization’s work? Tell that story! And for the ask? Don’t be overbearing but make it apparent.
For renewal campaigns, the work is marginally easier and predicated a bit more on emotion. You’ll want to make sure you let them know right off the bat how their prior donation was used. If you have data on hand about a specific program they gave to, talk about that. Use as much information as you’ve got, and be grateful. While you want to grow the donation, you don’t want to make them seem as though whatever they gave wasn’t super important to you. Let them know what you’re planning on this year, back it up if necessary, and remind them not just who you are but why you exist. Light that fire beneath them and be sure to follow up with a phone call. And for the ask? Be creative and make sure you’re asking a few times in your letter, but you know, without all the desperation.
Be sure to utilize some personalization for both types of letters, and add handwritten touches wherever appropriate. The fact-heavy acquisition appeal is very important because you have to grow your donor base to avoid burnout, but know that the average response rate for these kinds of letters floats around 0.5%. Manage the expectations of your staff and board. Renewals—if done well—can return a 40%-70% response!
What’s your single most important thing?
It’s crucial that you stay focused in this letter, and your best bet is to do so with a really touching story. This element of your appeal really takes care of what we mean when we advise you to “forge an emotional connection,” “start with why,” or “begin building trust” with your reader. Answering that “why do we exist?” question is hard, and since you’re planning early this year (wink, wink) this presents a great opportunity to have some fun brainstorming sessions with your staff. Really get to the heart of both what your organization does and WHY you do it. There you’ll find your reason for being and for the letter, you can bring it to life with a story.
See also: The Case for Starting with Why
Determine your tactical strategy.
Know what your plan of attack is before you get into the nuts and bolts by asking yourself some important questions. Is this supposed to be a conversation or just an informational awareness piece? Have I stated why I’m here (“I’m writing you because…”)? Is there a promise or incentive (and if so what’s your plan to deliver)? For renewals, are there at least 3 asks? Will this be entertaining in any way? If yes, what’s your plan for dynamic content (photos, links to videos or landing pages)? Is my donor a hero? All of this will help you figure out how your letter will sound and what kind of language or style you should be using.
See also: There’s Always Room for a Story
Make the giving process EASY.
This is your end-game. Your reader has (hopefully) reached the finish line and now they’re primed and ready to give. But wait… how do they do it? There is no room for second-guessing at this stage and you don’t want to risk them dropping off because suddenly it’s too complicated to make a simple donation. Be clear about how you want them to give and outline it explicitly. If you’re set up for mobile or online giving, provide them with a short link or even use a QR code. Prefer checks? Include a pre-addressed or personalized remittance envelope for them to mail you their contribution. Your objective should be to make this quick, painless, and secure. Also, remember to include a donor-centric reminder on your reply device reinforcing how important their donation is to you. Who knows, you might get a couple bucks more because of it!
See also: 5 Ways to Put Your Donation Page to Work
The Wrap Up
Planning is important so don’t waste time. Know what kind of results you want from the start and use this process to go after it. You can begin easily by segmenting your list into two groups: those who’ve given and those who’ve yet to give. Write two versions of your letter, one for each group. Be a little creative where you can but keep it simple. If that is all you’re able to do within your current budget, do it. You will definitely see improved results. Regardless of what resources you have at your disposal, this basic strategy can be applied by any size organization.
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