Five Tips for the First Sentence of Your Next Appeal Letter

Writing Appeal Letters

The first sentence of your next appeal letter is really important.

Most readers will use it to decide whether to keep reading . . . or start thinking about whether to recycle or delete your message.

So yeah, it’s important. We’ve written hundreds of appeals and e-appeals over the years, and studied the results. Here are five tips to make your first sentence GREAT:

1. Short and Sweet

Your first sentence should be short and easy to understand. If your first sentence is long, complex, has lots of commas and clauses, and maybe a statistic or two, would you want to keep wading through? Remember, your reader is using it to decide whether to keep reading . . . or not.

2. Drama, Drama, Drama

Fill it with drama or make it interesting to your donor. Drama and tension are two of the best tools you have for engaging their interest. Or make it something that would be interesting to your donor – which is likely something different than would be interesting to you!

The worst example of this I ever saw was a first sentence that said, “Recently we hosted a staff leadership seminar.” Ouch.

3. What’s The Point?

One of the best first sentences is, “I’m writing to you today because . . .” That sentence forces you to get right to the point – which donors really appreciate. You want to know why so few donors actually read fundraising letters? It’s because they know how long it takes most nonprofits to get to the point! So if you and your organization get to the point quickly, your donor will be far more likely to read more.

4. Who Cares?

Another great tactic is to make the first sentence about the donor. Think “I know you care about Koala bears” or “You are one of our most generous donors, so I think you’ll want to know . . .” Listen, most of the other organizations she donates to wax poetic about totally unrelated things or about how great they are. When you write her and talk about her, she’ll love it!

5. Less is More

After you’ve written the first draft of your appeal, you can often delete your first couple of sentences or paragraphs. This happens to me all the time in my own writing, and in appeal letters that I edit for clients. In the first draft, the first couple sentences or paragraphs are often just warmup. They can be deleted and your letter will be stronger because now it gets right to the point.

So next time you’re writing, pay special attention to your first setence. Keep it short and easy to read. Fill it with drama if you can. And when more people read your writing, more people will donate!

Fundraising’s “Virtuous Circle”

the fundraising "virtuous circle": Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat

I had the privilege of teaching at the South Sound AFP chapter a few nights ago. The group was made up of young professionals, several of whom had been fundraising for less than 6 months.

We walked through fundraising’s Virtuous Circle. A “virtuous circle” is a chain of events that reinforces itself through a feedback loop. Here’s what it looks like in fundraising:

  1. Asking donors to solve a problem with their gift,
  2. Thanking them promptly and emotionally,
  3. Reporting back to them on how their gift made a difference.

Doing those three things well, one at a time, and in the correct order causes donors to trust your organization. This makes it more likely they’ll give to your next appeal, and stay donors for years and years.

I asked the group how many of their organizations Reported back to donors. **Only one person raised their hand.** Only one organization in the whole room was completing the circle.

I’ll do a longer post about fundraising’s virtuous circle later, but for now let’s focus on the incredible opportunity this presents for you and your organization. If your donor is giving to (on average) 7 to 10 different charities – but your organization is the only one does a great job showing her what her gifts have done, what do you think will happen? Here’s the short list:

  • Your donors will stick with you for longer
  • Your newsletters will raise money
  • Your response rates to appeals will increase
  • Even event income goes up

I think every fundraiser needs to learn (or be reminded of) this fundamental part of fundraising. Letting your donors’ know what their gifts have done is both honoring and a huge opportunity to raise more money to do more good.

How To Avoid The Dreaded Summer Slump

Most organizations experience a “summer slump.” They raise less money in the summer because — let’s face it — donors are busy doing other things.

But your organization can avoid the slump, and can even turn it into a strength! There are three main steps, and here’s how . . .

Step 1: Do A Fiscal Year End Campaign

If your fiscal year ends on June 30th, do a Fiscal Year End campaign. We just recently posted how our clients have successfully done this — read that for the full details. But in a nutshell, run a campaign with a direct mail letter and a few emails asking your donors to give a gift before June 30th to “help [your organization] end your fiscal year strong.” I’ve been doing fundraising for over 20 years and I’m always surprised these campaigns work. But they always do!

Step 2: Develop A Summer Offer

Is there a reason your organization is busy during the summer or early fall? Or a reason your beneficiaries need special help during the summer? Or a reason you need funding during the summer? If so, ask your donors specifically to help with that reason.

For example, we do this for an organization that helps homeless moms and kids. Each year we run a “Back To School” campaign during the summer that asks donors to help provide school supplies, backpacks, clothes and shoes for the children in their programs. We’ve done it for 4 years and have raised more money each successive year.

Step 3: Ask Your Major Donors

You have many major donors who give annually and have flexibility for when they give their gift. Approach them, tell them about the summer slump and how helpful it would be to get their gift in the summer. I’m sure at least one will help you. And here’s a delightful little secret; I bet that donor will give you another gift at the end of the year!

That’s how to avoid your summer slump!

How To Raise Money at Fiscal Year End

dandelion

Does your organization’s fiscal year end on June 30th?

If so, you can be raising quite a bit of money at the end of June.

Each year about this time I have the same thought: “I can’t believe fundraising around fiscal year end works.” But it does. Every year.

Here’s why I think it works, and how our clients have had the most success at raising money . . .

Fiscal Year End fundraising works for two main reasons:

  1. There’s a clear deadline. Deadlines are magic for raising money. They always increase the urgency, which makes more people take action:
  2. People understand budgets. They know what it’s like to come up short at the end of the month. They know how hard it is to plan when you don’t know how much money is coming in. So your donors get it when you say, “Please help us end the fiscal year strong so that this good work continues . . .”

So here’s what to do:

  • Send out a Fiscal Year End appeal. Send it out as quickly as you can. It doesn’t really matter what it looks like, just be sure to make the June 30th deadline clear early and often.
  • The Ask is simple: ask your donor to send in a gift before the end of the fiscal year to help your organization end the year strong. Tell her she will ensure the organization keeps ‘(doing whatever you do) and starts your next year in a position to do a great job.
  • Send out three emails at the end of the month, on the 27th, 29th and 30th at about 10:00 AM. If you only want to send two emails, send them on the 28th and 30th.
  • Your emails should say the same thing as the letter.
  • If you can, have the home page of your website feature a large banner asking for fiscal year end gifts by June 30th. Put the banner up for the last week of the month.
  • Finally, if you can offer matching funds, do it. We’ve had GREAT success using matches to increase the amount of money raised during fiscal year end campaigns.

That’s it! Send out your letter as quickly as you can, and get ready to raise more money this June than you have in the past!

 

Tell Stories. Raise Money. Learn More May 3rd.

Join us on May 3rd  to learn how tell stories that will delight your donors!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at a nonprofit’s brochure, appeal letter or newsletter that is stuffed full of charts and fancy info graphics that showcase the impressive numbers of people helped, scholarships granted or acres of wilderness saved.

These are great numbers, but use them in grant applications. Not fundraising materials for individual donors.

For communications to your donors, the story is king.  At least it should be if you want to raise the most money.

A story told right makes your donor the hero and gives them that warm and fuzzy feeling that keeps them giving over and over with glee. Every fundraiser’s dream.

Come learn how to tell powerful, engaging stories that will raise more money and make your donors feel GREAT. I’ve spent 20 years testing storytelling like this for major and mass donors and let me tell you— it works! Come learn from Jim’s major donor fundraising experiences, my data-driven communication knowledge, and Shanon’s attitude of gratitude on May 3rd. Last fall I gave a presentation just like this one at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference in Chicago where registration was $500. You can get it for $40.

Don’t wait! Space is limited! Find out more and register here!

 

Details:

When: Wednesday, May 3, 2017; 9:00am – 12:00pm

Where: 415 Westlake (415 Westlake Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109)

Parking: Street and garage parking nearby

Agenda:

  • 9:00am – 9:15am: Networking & Coffee
  • 9:15am – 11:45am: Presentation
  • 11:45am – 12:00pm: Question & Answer

Fundraising Training: Better Stories to Raise More Money

With Better Stories You Can Raise More Money

To raise more money you have to get donors excited about what their gifts can do.  And the best way to do that is by telling better stories.

Fresh from presenting at the National Nonprofit Storytelling Conference, Shanon Doolittle, Jim Shapiro and Steven Screen want to share their fundraising storytelling secrets with you so that you can raise more money!

Right here in downtown Seattle, on the morning of May 3rd, you can hear all three share their secrets for just $40.

You’ll learn:

  • How to tell stories that will delight your donors, deepen your relationships and raise more money
  • Tips and techniques to weave your donor into the story of your organization
  • What stories to tell at events, and how to tell them
  • The types of stories that work best in appeals (it’s not what you think) and the best stories for newsletters.
  • How communicating with major donors is a little different than everyone else – and why that matters so much

Shanon, Jim and Steven will make sure you have multiple ideas you can take back to the office and use that afternoon to raise more money.  Shanon has an attitude of gratitude and is a nationally-recognized expert on running successful events.  Jim is a major donor fundraising fanatic.  Steven is a data-driven communication expert.  Their advice is proven, and it’s effective.

The cost to see the three of them at the national conference is over $500. You can see them here for $40! Register today!

Details:

When: Wednesday, May 3, 2017; 9:00am – 12:00pm

Where: 415 Westlake Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109

Parking: Street and garage parking nearby

Agenda:

  • 9:00am – 9:15am: Networking & Coffee
  • 9:315m – 11:45am: Presentations
  • 11:45am – 12:00pm: Question & Answer

Leadership in Fundraising– FREE Fundraising Training in Seattle!

News

We’re really excited about this upcoming training and hope you take advantage of it! Time is running out to register and space is limited so REGISTER TODAY!

We’re going to be talking about how you, as a Board Member or Executive Director, can evaluate, support and guide your organization’s fundraising program while still allowing the fundraisers to do their jobs. Most training is geared toward the front line fundraisers, but your job is to understand what a great fundraising program looks like and what to do if your organization’s fundraising isn’t effective. So if you’d like easy-t0-understand and practical advice on how to oversee a fundraising program– this training is for you!

  • WHEN: Thursday, October 20th, 2016; 9:30am-12:00pm
  • WHERE: Fulcrum Capital, 1111 Third Ave, Seattle, WA 98101
  • COST: FREE!

You’ll learn:

  • The two performance metrics you should focus on: net revenue and retention rate
  • The three things your organization needs to be doing, especially with Major Donors
  • How Boards can govern their organization’s fundraising but still let the fundraisers do their jobs
  • What successful donor-focused fundraising looks and sounds like

Learn more here and register Today!

Our Chance to Give Back

News

We’ve been incredibly fortunate to learn from fundraising mentors.  And from organizations that diligently measure the results of everything so they can see what works and what doesn’t.

On October 20th, in downtown Seattle we’re going to share it with you!

If you’re an Executive Director new to fundraising, or a Board Member of a nonprofit, we’re going to share how you can evaluate and improve your organization’s fundraising!

This is FREE seminar, with plenty of time for questions and answers at the end.  Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • The two performance metrics you should focus on: net revenue and retention rate
  • The three things your organization needs to be doing, especially with Major Donors
  • How Boards can govern their organization’s fundraising but still let the fundraisers do their jobs
  • What successful donor-focused fundraising looks and sounds like

We (Jim and Steven) will present what’s working and what’s not working in fundraising today – with real-life examples you can learn from.

We’d love to help you and your Board be more effective at governing your organization’s fundraising – and raising more money – for free!

SPACE IS LIMITED- Sign up today!

Leadership in Fundraising- FREE Fundraising Training in Seattle!

News

Have you ever wanted to know how to evaluate – and improve — your organization’s fundraising?

The Better Fundraising Co. is offering this FREE seminar to help Board Members and Executive Directors evaluate and improve your organization’s fundraising. October 20, 9:30am, downtown Seattle.

Most Board members and E.D.s aren’t professional fundraisers, and have to rely on gut instinct and a small handful of experiences to govern and evaluate their organization’s fundraising.  This session will teach you what you need to know to be as helpful as possible!

What you’ll learn:

  • The two performance metrics you should focus on: net revenue and retention rate
  • The three things your organization needs to be doing, especially with Major Donors
  • How Boards can govern their organization’s fundraising but still let the fundraisers do their jobs
  • What successful donor-focused fundraising looks and sounds like

We will present what’s working and what’s not working in fundraising today – with real-life examples you can learn from – so that you can be more informed, help your organization, and help raise more money. They’d love to help you and your Board be more effective at governing your organization’s fundraising – for free!

Sign up today!