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


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!


$3 Million fundraising success. Learn how they did it!

Have you ever dreamed of raising $3 Million at one fundraising event? This happened last month for a nonprofit that follows our Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat fundraising system. Here’s how they did it . . .

  1. They identified their top donors and top potential donors and sent them an invitation to attend a weekend getaway. The organization paid for the hotel room while the donor was responsible for paying for airfare.
  2. The goal of the event was to get donations. Current donors were asked to give more than they had historically, while new donors were asked to give a first time gift.
  3. The organization planned the entire weekend from start to finish to present problems for the donor to solve with their giving.  Not to tell the donors how great the organization was, but to present donors with the ‘problems’ that the organization solved.  Then invite the donor to solve those problems with a gift.
  4. They asked the donors to give generously.  They talked about the power each person had — and the power they had collectively in the room when their gifts were pooled.

The result was amazing. The donors gave and they gave generously. The $3m goal was met. The largest gift was $1m while the smallest gift was $1,000.

This event proved that the simple act of asking donors with clarity and purpose can create amazing financial results.

Now, I realize that not every organization can raise $3 million in one weekend.  But I am confident that if you are able to identify your top donors, create a plan to ask them to give more than they are currently giving, and ask them with clarity and purpose, you can raise more money than ever before. You can do it!

5 Key Elements for Special Event Fundraising Success

It has been a busy time of year for fundraising events and the fun doesn’t slow down until late June. So, I thought I’d go a little deeper into the 5 key elements you need to have in place to have special event fundraising success.

Here they are:

  1. Have one goal for the event. Is it a friend-raiser or a fundraiser? You can’t do two things well at once, so pick one goal and make a plan to achieve it.
  2. Keep your special event short. There is nothing worse than a long special event, especially if it goes beyond the communicated end time. Your goal is to have your guests feeling fresh and energized – not checking their watches.
  3. Your event should be structured so that the “business” portion of the event is before the “fundraising” portion of the event. What I mean is you should schedule your announcements, board acknowledgment, comments about the organization, etc., BEFORE you state the need and ask event guests to make a donation.
  4. This leads to the most important point: your event should have a fundraising offer. Put simply, what problem will the donor solve by making a donation? Make your offer as measurable, simple and clear as possible. Then weave it in throughout the entire event; it should be mentioned when the ED speaks, it should be mentioned during the beneficiary story, and should be in the Ask.
  5. Successful fundraising events ask the donors to do something very specific with their money — and donors are challenged to give more than they originally thought they would. When making the ask, tell the potential donors in the room exactly what you want them to do and how best to make their gift. Be bold. Keep it simple. Make it easy for the donor to make a gift!

Assuming you have the right people in the room and you follow these 5-steps, you will increase your likelihood of fundraising success!

Does Your Fundraising Event Need a Facelift?

Does your fundraising event feel tired, old and in need of a facelift?  If so, then here are a few pro tips to help you bring life back to your fundraising event — and raise more money!

Pro Tips:

  1. Keep your event short and to the point.  Most fundraising events leave their guests feeling tired and worn out.  You don’t want that.  You want them to leave feeling refreshed and feeling good after they make their charitable gift.  For banquet style events try to keep the entire event to less than 90 minutes.
  2. If the main goal of your event is to raise money, it is very important to put all of the typical business items at the beginning.  Then get to the storytelling and fundraising portion of your event.  The “typical business items” I’m talking about include announcements, introducing board members, having a program staff member talk, etc.  Put another way, anything that has little to do with the problem you are asking the donor to solve with their gift should be done quickly and right way.
  3. Create a great fundraising offer for your event, then weave your offer throughout the event from start to finish.  You fundraising offer should clearly communicate the problem you are asking the donor to solve and how much it will cost to solve it.  For example, “$60 provides a night of safety to a homeless Mom and her kids.”  Mention your offer throughout the night, building a case for it, so that when you come to the Ask it all makes sense to the people in the room.
  4. Ask!  I have attended way too many fundraising events where the organizers are afraid to ask the donors in the room to make a donation.  Be specific.  Tell the people in the room exactly what you want them to do and how to do it.

Use these pro tips to improve your next fundraiser.  If you can make your Ask simple, clear and bold, your donors will leave feeling great about you, the event and the donation they made to make the world a better place.


Raise More Money with Your Appeals

Here are five quick tips that will help your next appeal letters and e-appeals raise more money.   Print this out and set it next to your keyboard the next to you write an appeal.  Because if you do these things I guarantee you’ll raise more money!

  1. You have to ask for help. If you don’t ask boldly, fewer donors will give!
  2. Remind your donors of the need. Most donors need to be reminded multiple times of the need your organization meets or the problem your organization solves.
  3. Have an Offer. Put another way, your Offer should describe a specific thing that the donor’s gift will do or accomplish.  ask donors to help in specific ways. Your donors want to help, but can only help if they know how
  4. Tell a real-life story to illustrate the need. Don’t use big numbers or statistics, tell an emotional story.
  5. Remember that most donors won’t read the whole letter – but they will scan So use underlining or bolding to highlight the two or three most important things you want them to read.  Here’s what we underline in the letters we work on:
    • The need or problem.
    • The solution and it’s cost.
    • A bold request for the donor to give a gift today.

Those are the ‘big ideas’ that will help you be successful if you’d like to know even more, click here to watch a short video we made to help you.

Create a Donor-Centered Newsletter That Raises Money!


Over the past few weeks we have blogged about how to Report back to your donors using donor-centered newsletters.

As you set out to do the important job of Reporting, here’s a short list of the most powerful tips to make your next newsletter a blockbuster:

  • It’s not about you!  Try to connect your donor directly with the beneficiary and limit (or preferably eliminate entirely) any organizational or institutional news.
  • Make it easy to scan and still get the message. Most donors have limited time to engage with your material. If they open your mailings, most are just scanning your newsletter for the highlights.  Really make sure your main message is in your headlines and picture captions – the things most likely to get red.  Don’t hide the good news at the end of an article!
  • While the newsletter is primarily a reporting vehicle, you should still ask for money.  Good newsletters raise lots of money! Balance the reporting and fundraising to give the donor great information about the impact of their giving and the chance to continue participating with your mission.  On a 4-page newsletter I do 3 pages of Reporting and use 1 page to present a need that donor can meet with a gift today.

Keep this list in front of you as you build your next newsletter. It will help you “keep the main thing the main thing” – and build a newsletter that Reports and raises money!