6 Ways to Strengthen the Heart of a Fundraising Letter
What is the heart of a letter? The ask. The call to action. The turning point at which you shift from getting your reader emotionally involved to asking her to send in a gift. Or sign a petition. Or volunteer. Or march in the streets. Or whatever.
We all know that if you don’t ask you won’t get. But asking alone is not enough. You have to give the reader urgent and compelling reasons to leave her comfortable chair and go do what you want her to. Here are six ideas:
- Make sure she sees the ask. Highlight it with color, underline the type, bold the font or do anything else that makes the call to action stand out. If the donor or prospect reads only one line in the letter, make sure it’s the one that tells her what to do.
- Be specific. Don’t be ambiguous about the action you want her to take: “First sign the enclosed petition. Then return it in the enclosed envelope, along with your gift of $XX, $XX, $XXX or even more.”
- Explain the consequences. Tell your reader, in no uncertain terms, what great things will happen if she gives and, just as important, what terrible things will happen if she doesn’t.
- Make giving easy. In the mail, make it as easy as possible to send back the reply. Provide a return envelope, give her an online and/or telephone option, etc. In an email, make the links to donate the most prominent things on the page. Then take her straight to the donation page. With every extra click, you’ll lose a few more donors.
- Be urgent. Every call to action must ask for an immediate response. Deadlines, expiration dates, impending disasters … make sure the reader knows that this is a crisis that can’t wait until tomorrow.
- Use action words. You can’t say it too often: Short action words inspire people to take action. Passive words and phrases make for passive readers. As the Second Apparition told Macbeth, "Be bloody bold and resolute.” The call to action should show your donors you have a plan and they need to act.
A great fundraising appeal or email can have many different variables. But a clear call to action must be a constant. So whatever else you play around with in a package, keep your call to action highly visible and to the point.
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.