In order to use those seven seconds effectively, we must understanding the audience to whom we are appealing. Younger people (Gen X, Gen Y) respond to different types of communication than those who are older (Baby Boomers, the Great Generation). By analyzing our donor data, we may find that we need to send out two different types of appeals. Do you know who your donors are? If not, you might consider conducting a donor survey. This will help you better understand the characteristics of your existing donors, which in turn allows you to identify pools of similar, potential donors. You may also want to conduct a lapsed donor survey to gain a better understanding of how to improve your donor communications and stewardship programs and send a specific appeal to this group after the issues have been addressed.
Regardless of how many versions are sent out, it's important to establish a singular Look & Feel for the piece. This should be in keeping with the organization's brand (colors, logo, etc.), but look slightly different. Consider creating something that's an odd size, produced in bright colors – anything that will make it pop. The most successful packages almost always have an overall theme that is repeated throughout.
Whether you choose to write a letter or create some other appeal piece, it's important to focus immediately on the problem and its scale -- who's being affected, and how? Once you have drawn a clear picture of the problem, be sure to demonstrate exactly how the donor's contribution will help create a real solution. Donors want to make a difference, so be clear about how their money will help do so. People feel overwhelmed by and hopeless in the face of enormous social problems -- such as homelessness and hunger -- so be sure to maintain a human scale. Stories, quotes, testimonials, photos, and graphs can illustrate the story while providing a visual "punch." It's also important to provide the reader with sufficient white space -- so their eyes can rest -- and to use an appropriate sized and type of font.
Remember: the main point of your letter is to ask for money. Inform donors specifically what the funds will be used for used for and scale your ask amounts accordingly. (ex: your gift of $250 will provide one woman with shelter and meals for one week). Repeat the request two or three times. Be sure donors know the money is needed now -- include a deadline, even if it’s artificial. If you plan to use a donation coupon and/or donation envelope, be sure to repeat the deadline.
Asking people to give 15 – 25% more than they gave before usually encourages them to do so, and discourages them from giving any less. Use your mail merge function to include a specific donation amount with text such as, "Thank you for your donation of $50, made on (date). If you could possibly give $65 or even $75 this time, we'll be well on our way to our goal of $10,000 by the end of the year."
Many organizations combine the reply device with the return envelope itself, which is a more cost-effective approach. These envelopes can also be tucked into other publications, such as the newsletter, annual report, brochure, etc. If you plan to use a reply devise (such as a coupon), it needs to be able to stand on its own and motivate the donor to send money. No matter what type of reply device you use, be sure to provide suggested donation amounts, based on the range of gifts donated to your organization over the years. The smallest gift size should be $25 -- include an option to check "Other: $______" for those who want to include a lesser or larger amount than those listed. Always provide the option for people to give by credit card, on line, and to give each month. Given the relatively low rate of return on mailings, it's far less expensive to use a permit than it is to provide postage for each reply envelope. You can increase the return rate by holding a phone-a-thon, sending emails and/or posting on Facebook after the appeal mailing goes out. Reporting progress towards your goals or acknowledging this week’s donors can help move other people into action.
It's ideal to send out two or three appeals each year. The best time of year to mail an appeal is early November, as it gets best return. If that timing does not work for your organization, then send it out at a time that’s convenient for you. Don't forget to send out thank you notes promptly -- within one week is ideal -- and to follow the appeal with information about the difference those donor dollars made for your organization!
Counsel to more than 150 organizations and their leaders, Sarah Lange is the Principal & Founder of New Era for Non-profits, a consulting firm focused on helping non-profits integrate best practices into their daily operations. Sarah has spent more than two decades in the field of non-profit management and is well known and respected for her depth and breadth of expertise in all aspects of fund development, organizational change, leadership and board development, strategic planning, needs assessments and evaluation. http://newera4nonprofits.com/
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