What Matters Most
I remember the first direct-mail appeal letter I ever wrote. It was 1978. A massive flood had ravaged a village in the lowlands of Bangladesh, and I was assigned to write an appeal to current donors.
Twenty-eight years — and many appeal packages — later, I want to share what I’ve learned. You might find these thoughts helpful as you prepare for your next appeal.
The most important element of a successful appeal is the fundraising offer: a short, absolutely clear statement of what we’re asking donors to accomplish with their gifts. Example: “Give $28 today to provide 14 hot, nutritious meals for the homeless living at our shelter.” Or, “Your special year-end gift, combined with the gifts from other special friends, will help close our $280,000 budget shortfall.” Or, “When you give a gift of $140 or more to support our expansion project, we’ll send you our full-color pictorial review of the museum’s current special collection.”
Craft your fundraising offer in clear language that’s easy to understand. Make sure your offer language includes exactly what the donor’s gift will achieve. Remember, too, that your donors share your beliefs and values. That’s why they chose to support you in the first place. Write from your heart, and don’t be afraid to base your appeal on the values that shape your work.
Unless you have a compelling and time-sensitive fundraising offer, you might as well forget the rest of the package. Get the offer wrong, and you’re in big trouble. Get it right, and you’re on your way to, ahem, fundraising success.
A workable structure
There are various ways to format a fundraising letter. I’ve found this five-point structure works best:
1. Start with your reason for writing. The headline on the outer envelope is the first place to announce your purpose. Using the museum example above, it might read “Urgent: 2006 Photography Expansion Fund — Details for Members Only Inside” on the outer envelope. This headline announces the purpose and creates credibility and intrigue. The museum member is compelled to open this envelope to find out how this “members only” letter applies to her.