The 10 Commandments for Optimizing Fundraising Success, Part 2
[Editor's note: This is part 2 of a three-part series on the session, "The 10 Commandments: 10 Ageless, Irrefutable, Non-Negotiable Keys to Optimizing Your Fundraising Success," by veteran fundraising consultant Tom Gaffny at the DMA Nonprofit Federation's 2011 New York Nonprofit Conference held last month.]
4. If your letter's opening line doesn't engage donors … you're screwed
"You're not in the writing business," Gaffny said. "You're in the interest-building, motivating and selling business. Unless you build interest, motivate or sell, you've failed."
To build interest, motivate and sell, he offered these tips:
1. Appeal to your reader's self-interest. We are all most interested in ourselves, Gaffny said, so make it all about "you, you, you." For example, one Food for the Poor letter began … "Loving … caring … compassionate … these are words that we often use to describe our Lord. … Today, I use these words to describe you … Thank you. You are truly a special angel who has blessed many others. … This is who you are …"
"It's all about the donor, not about us, our needs, but about what you do as a donor," Gaffny said. "'Our' is not as good as 'you' or 'your.'"
2. Share news without pussyfooting around. "If you have something to say, say it," Gaffny said. "Get right to the point of why you are writing and asking."
3. Be personal — show 'em you know 'em. Use your data, and trust in that data when communicating with donors. Personalize messages and mention milestones and past actions.
4. Hit them with an interrupting thought. Gaffny said children are great at this, just blurting out something from left field. For example, an Oxfam America letter began, "Here's what you won't find accompanying this letter …" Paralyzed Veterans of America used the opener, "35 years ago they said we were nuts!" And Covenant House used this interrupting thought: "I just saw God a few hours ago. He came unannounced to our shelter, right before dinner, a not-too-tall, not-too-clean kid dressed in dirty sneakers and a rumpled dungaree jacket."
GAVI put an interrupting thought on its outer envelope. Through the window you could see a penny, and the teaser read, "Imagine if the life of a child you love depended on the flip of this coin."
5. Tell a story. "It's the single most powerful tool at our disposal," Gaffny said. He said he's a huge believer in dialogue because people are naturally nosy and love to eavesdrop, and dialogue right away with no preamble is very powerful. He also said using pictures is a great technique, because we all know a picture is worth a thousand words.
One word of warning, however. Gaffny said stories don't work quite as well for national health organizations like the American Cancer Society. Why? Because we already know the cancer story — nearly everyone has been touched in some way by cancer. No story you tell us will change our view. So collection plate appeals work better for those type of organizations, Gaffny said.
5. Make it easy
Ask yourself, how easy are you making it for donors? Put it right there, Gaffny said. Make it easy to reply, easy to read, easy to digest and easy to respond. Is there a specific offer that jumps off the page? For example, the American Cancer Society used an outer with the teaser, "Incredible News! Your chance to make twice the difference!"
Also, the reply slip must stand on its own, Gaffny said, so that if the recipient reads only the reply slip, he or she knows the offer/ask.
6. Remember the 90/10 rule of creative
That rule: 10 percent of the words make 90 percent of the difference. The most important 10 percent of any package, according to Gaffny, is the outer envelope/subject line, the opening line and the reply device — or all the "you" stuff.
"If those 10 percent don't work, all the other stuff doesn't matter," he said.
Check back for commandments 7-10.