If you’ve worked in the nonprofit world more than a year, you might already be weary of the pressure to maximize year-end gifts. It’s not that different for your donors, who are often bombarded with requests as December 31 looms closer. The way you communicate your message is key to cutting through the clutter and getting results.
At our webinar last week, “Year-End Appeals with High-Impact Results,” Victoria and Sarah discussed the importance of a multi-pronged approach, using volunteers and board members to leverage success, and creating excitement through online channels and social media, such as #GivingTuesday. Once you’ve decided on your strategy and schedule, it’s time to craft your winning appeal. Here are some tried-and-true tips to incorporate as you write:
1. Create a strong first impression. Whether it’s the opening paragraph of a letter or the subject line of an email, it can make or break your appeal. These first impressions should contain motivational, attention-grabbing language… and should get to the point quickly. For example,
That squeaky toy. You know the one. You bought it because even though your pet had plenty of playthings, you wanted to spoil her just a little bit more. (Never mind that she never touches it!).
Your heart for animals is what makes you such a valued supporter of our shelter and the unclaimed pets we care for. And this year, …
For additional thoughts, Blackbaud’s Steve MacLaughlin posted a handy list of 80 year-end appeal subject lines he collected one December, along with some insights on which ones work best and how to stand out in the inbox.
2. Write conversationally. This is a persuasive appeal, not an academic paper. Embrace contractions and keep sentences short and powerful. Speak in the active voice and use “I” and “you” (but mainly “you”) throughout.
3. Build a sense of urgency. Tell the reader why their year-end gift is needed right now (but without sounding desperate). I read an interesting study a few years ago that showed people are more willing to donate to keep something than to create something. Apparently fear of losing existing programs/facilities is a bigger motivator. I often tap into this angle when writing appeals: “Without your support, over 500 local children could go to bed hungry” gets a stronger response than, “With your support, over 500 local children will receive a hot dinner.”
4. Use stories over statistics. Remember, giving is based more on emotion than logic, so tell a heart-rending story of the difference your organization has made. Include kitchen-sink details to make the narrative come alive: “Jeremy slept at a rest stop in his old Silverado by night and attended Econ 101 by day” grabs you more than “Jeremy went to college while living in his truck.”
5. Ask, rinse, repeat. Be explicit in your ask, and keep repeating it throughout the appeal using variations in the language: “Through your gift, the museum can preserve thousands of beautiful relics for future generations,” and on the next reference, “This exhibit wouldn’t be possible without your continued support.”
6. Talk about the donor’s impact, rather than your need. People give because they want to make a difference. You’re not providing a program—you’re offering hope.
7. Specifically say how the money will be used. Today’s donors don’t just wish to know this; they expect it.
8. Focus on your recipients rather than your organization. Instead of “your gift to the literacy council,” say “your gift to hard-working learners.”
9. End with a clear call to action. Don’t assume the reader will know what to do next or will follow through without prodding—which leads to another point:
10. Make it easy to give! Tell the reader exactly how to make the gift and where to send it. For online giving, I’m a fan of big DONATE or GIVE NOW links at the end of an email—or for a letter, a return envelope and/or simple web address that’s easy to retype. (But don’t send them to your website unless it’s donor-friendly!)
11. Leverage employer matches and challenge grants. It’s surprising how few people know about their company’s gift-matching programs.
12. Remind them their gift could be tax deductible. Tax benefits are a motivator for many donors, especially at the end of the year.
P.S. Include a P.S.! It’s usually one of the first things your donor will read and should be just as compelling as the appeal.
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