Fundraising Appeal Best Practices: 5 Ways To Improve Your Next Appeal

Megan Donahue
Megan Donahue

People who support nonprofits get a lot of mail. Their email inboxes get pretty crowded, too. Whether it’s from you, or another nonprofit, it’s rare for a month to go by without at least a few fundraising letters popping up in the mailbox. With so many worthy organizations making so many asks, how do you make yours stand out?

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The Basic Function Of A Fundraising Appeal

Whether you’re sending it in the mail, or crowdfunding online, an appeal functions the same way. It is a persuasive piece of writing (though it may be presented in a video) that asks for a donation.

A good fundraising appeal:

  • Tells a story
  • Educates about your cause
  • Inspires giving

At its best, an appeal is both educational and inspirational. It gives your audience important information about your cause, and moves them to give. “

“Sounds good,” you say. “But how?”

We’ve got a list for that.

Here are five ways to improve your next fundraising appeal:

1.Tell A Tale: Storytelling

Your fundraising appeal must tell a story. No negotiations, it simply has to. Storytelling is the heart of people-based fundraising. That’s why CauseVox is built to support telling stories, and put them front and center. Your audience connects to stories like nothing else, and stories prime the brain to give.

The story you tell should be emotionally engaging and human-centered. “Once upon a time there was an organization, and they needed your money” does not do the trick. Instead, focus on how your donors will make a difference and what kind of change you’re able to make in the world, with their help.

Look at this “Before and After” story from World Bicycle Relief. It’s a simple story, but it uses the personal story of Royce, a Community Health Volunteer (CHV) in rural Zambia. Before she had a bicycle, she could visit four patients a day. With a bicycle, she can care for up to 18 people!

CauseVox shows your organization's impact

To get the most out of the story you tell, use a storytelling structure. At the very least, make sure your story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. To make your story gripping, experiment with Hollywood storylines, like Overcoming the Monster, or Rags to Riches.

CauseVox has a ton of storytelling resources, like blog posts, e-books, and our podcast.

2. You, You, You: Get Personal

Thinking your appeal is about your cause and your needs is an easy trap to fall into. To improve your appeal, you need to flip your perspective, and start considering how you can make it about the donor and their needs.

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The first step to making it about the donor is an easy one. Use their name and the word “you” throughout your appeal. None of this “Dear Friend” or “Generous Supporter” business–no one gets excited about a form letter. There are different opinions on how many instances of “I/We” vs. “You” should occur in an appeal, but it’s definitely better to lean on the side of “You.”

NCYL used CauseVox to raise funds and show impact.
The National Center for Youth Law makes it about the donor’s impact.

3. Start A Conversation: Language And Tone

Just as a fairly mundane story can become interesting if it’s well told, even the best story can’t survive stilted, boring language and a dry tone. The language and tone of your fundraising appeal matters.

The language you use in your appeal should be exciting, evocative, and active. Try out:

  • Incorporating the five senses–describe what things look like, sound like, feel like, smell like, taste like, as appropriate.
  • Include specific details– “On the night of December 13th, temperatures reached -7 degrees. Kevin was living in a tent under the Lawrence Avenue overpass” is stronger than, “It’s hard to be homeless in the winter.”
  • Use the active voice–it’s more interesting to read, and makes everything more immediate for the reader.

The overall tone should be conversational and friendly. Watch out for:

  • Inappropriate formality–Especially online, being overly formal in your writing can be off-putting.
  • Extreme casualness–At the same time, you are still asking people to trust you with their money, so avoid casualness to the point of flippancy. Swearing or using a lot of slang can weaken your credibility.

4. Show Why It Matters: Impact

What exactly is the donor doing by making a donation? The answer is not “giving money.” Better answers are: “Giving a kid a ride to school” or “Providing a week of supplies for a family devastated by a hurricane” or “Feeding a family for X number of days.”  Demonstrate the impact a donation will make.

Show more than dollars, show impact.
School-To-School International shows the impact of donations in terms of months of scholarships for girls to attend school.

5. Cut It Down: Length

While the jury is out on the perfect length for a direct mail appeal, for online fundraising appeals, we’re sure: Shorter is better. Online readers are skimmers, so they won’t spend a lot of time reading your appeal. Many people won’t even scroll to read more.

Since we know the number of people who read your entire appeal is going to be lower than the number who see it, it helps to be strategic–put the main ideas of your appeal in those first couple paragraphs.

Once you’ve written your appeal, a solid next step is to look for things to cut. It’s tempting to tell every single reason for donating to your cause, but you have to streamline to be effective.

You Can Do It

These best practices for your fundraising appeal aren’t difficult, and don’t take extra time or equipment. You already have everything you need to follow them–it’s just a matter of paying attention and being intentional. So go forth! Make your next appeal with confidence!

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To Learn More, Check Out

Tips For An Effective Fundraising Appeal

5 Tips To Write Fundraising Email Appeals That Inspire Action

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