The Fastest Way to Ruin Your Appeal Letter
Appeal letters are on everybody's mind right now. You are probably right in the middle of your year-end fundraising appeal series — and letters are going out right and left.
I've reviewed a few letters from colleagues lately, and I'm seeing the same mistake over and over.
Don't beat around the bush!
Nonprofits are muddling the ask. They are not coming right out and saying what they want and need the donor to do. Some organizations actually seem reluctant to ask. And they beat around the bush, wandering around in their sentences, lost in their messages.
Please don't water down your ask. Don't make it oblique, so the reader has to guess what you want her to do.
What's the point of an appeal letter? It's to make an ask! It's not an update. It's not a brag fest about how wonderful your organization is. It's not a "come by and visit us" invitation.
It is an appeal for a gift, and it should ask for the gift repeatedly.
Use a snappy opening, and pull the donor right into the letter
First paragraphs of appeal letters often wander around aimlessly. They talk about the wrong things.
(Tom Ahern says that you should write your appeal letter and then remove the first paragraph. The letter will be stronger.)
You should open your letter with something that will grab your donor's attention, such as:
- 20,000 kids are hungry each day in our community.
- Over 500 historic buildings are in peril of destruction right now in our state.
- Global warming is starting to hit home.
- Our school kids no longer have access to art classes in our community.
Or start with a story about someone you helped. That will certainly perk up your reader's interest.
Don't bury your ask
Too many asks are buried inside the copy of the letter. Please don't place the ask at the bottom of the fourth paragraph. If your donor is skimming the letter, she will completely miss your request.