Charitable organisations need fundraising letters that pack a punch.
Ultimately, there is no product to sell. No loyalty rewards to entice support. It is the strength of their fundraising letters that raise awareness and build support for their cause. Fundraising letters must speak directly to the potential donor. The headline must be attention-grabbing and make support for the cause seem like a no-brainer. But with so many fundraising letters hitting our mail boxes, it’s easy for them to get turfed with the junk mail. Fundraising letters must create a sense of urgency. Action must be immediate if the organisation is to save lives/house the homeless/deliver water to the thirsty/or administer vital medical aid to the injured.
If you can find a writer who produces successful fundraising letters, you should stick with him or her. You will save valuable briefing time, postage and frustration. Every fundraiser should closely monitor the performance of their fundraising letters. The key response statistics should be fed back to the copywriter so that the successful elements are incorporated in future fundraising letters.
- Did a lift piece enhance the response rate?
- Was the ‘ask’ for a specific project?
- Was a tear-off coupon included?
Successful fundraising letters don’t happen by accident. It is all about pulling the levers that we know aid the response rate. And weaving strong and compelling messages into the letter. Some of the most successful fundraising letters include a dollar-value goal for the appeal. Readers consider the amount of money to be raised against the perceived need for the project. Then their benevolence kicks in.
Just look at the World Vision fundraising letters that ask directly for a ‘$25 donation to buy a goat’ (or a chicken or a cow as the case may be). Donors can visualise the impact of their action. They imagine an on-going and tangible benefit from their donation.
However, many fundraisers are frightened to ask. They invest in their mailing, extol the virtues of their cause, but then they back-off when it comes to the ask. This type of behaviour will only end in disaster. People are busy. If they take the time to read your letter, it needs to be very clear what you want them to do.
Put simply, donors are more likely to respond to appeal letters when you:
1. Make the need appear urgent
2. Tell them how much money you need and
3. Make it easy for them to respond.
For future fundraising success, you need to keep track of your donors. That’s where good database management comes in.
Future fundraising letters should draw on the information you store, in order to personalise your letter.
Previous donors feel chuffed if you refer to the amount of their last donation. And their goodwill is reinforced if you can include an update on how their funds have been successfully deployed.
Reference to previous support also puts your donors in the right mind-set. They think ‘they put my donation to good use last year…therefore I will donate again this year’. It might not be the primary motivation for donation, but feeling good about supporting the cause doesn’t hurt. And so the cycle goes. Relationship building and bonding with your cause helps to develop a receptive and interested donor base. Every letter must reinforce the relationship. The quality of your mailing list will also aid the success and cost-effectiveness of your letters. The mailing list should be cleaned regularly and ‘return-to-senders’ obviously should be removed. At every opportunity, you should be looking to expand your list with quality donor-prospects.
It’s usually best for your fundraising letter to be signed by the Managing Director or Chief Executive Officer. But please don’t actually let them write the text of the letter. That’s because most executives will write in a stiff and formal style. They don’t convey the passion needed to get a donor enthusiastic. They tend to be very guarded and reserved – and this comes across in their writing. A personal voice will help to engage your donor and add credibility to the message. If you can, you should include personal stories and quotes from the people who have benefited from the work you undertake.
Again, real people who have been helped through donor funds adds weight to your message and authenticity to your cause.
If your fundraising letter has a lot to cover, use headlines and bullets to break it up. Some people will actually read your letter word for word. The rest will thank you for making it easy for them to scan the letter quickly.
And don’t forget to use a powerful ‘Post Script’ message after the signature. It is often the line people read first! So it must be strong. The ‘PS’ also caters for those who scan the letter very quickly. That one summary line at the end could tip them in your favour. Make it a winning, succinct appeal every time!
Finally, keep your communication meaningful. Don’t badger or harass your donors. Keep them informed about important progress you are making and be honest about set-backs.
The best donor is a return donor. Never forget to thank them and make them feel special. Every donor, big or small, needs to feel the warmth of appreciation. Donor funds are the life-blood of charitable organisations. If you work in a not-for-profit organisation, it is imperative that you produce fundraising letters of the highest calibre. Or you may as well not bother sending them at all.