The Primary Purpose of the Story in Your Appeal

everyone has a story

Last week I blogged on a type of story about the “toxic parent.”  It’s a specific story type from fundraising for children that reduces how much money an appeal or e-appeal will raise.

But the “toxic parent” is an example of a larger lesson to be learned in storytelling in fundraising…

What To Watch Out For

Watch out for anything in your fundraising that takes the reader’s focus off of what’s happening today and what the reader can do about it.

What To Do

In the story you tell, here are the most important elements, in order of importance:

  1. The problem your beneficiary faces
  2. What will happen if the problem is not solved
  3. What will happen if the problem IS solved

Notice that HOW the beneficiary came to be in the situation – how they came to have the problem – is not even on that list!

I realize this is super conceptual, so here are some examples…

Example Time

You see a story like the following all the time in fundraising for refugees.

  • “There was an amazing couple in Syria.  They were both doctors.  But because of the geopolitical situation, the bombings started.  One parent was killed, the other escaped with the children and an uncle. 

  • Their town was turned into dust and rubble, the color of sandstone at sunset.

  • Their months-long journey to the refugee camp was arduous.  They had to leave with only what they could carry.  Though one of the things they carried was the key to their house – because they dream of returning home someday.

  • They are living in a refugee camp.  Will you please send them aid like medicines and clean water?”

It’s an incredible story… but it’s not the right story to tell when asking the donor to send them medicine and clean water. 

90% of that story is about how the beneficiary came to be in the situation.  Precisely 0% of it is about how the beneficiary needs the donor’s help today

The Primary Purpose of Your Appeal Story

  • The primary purpose of the story in your appeal is to establish the need for whatever the donor can do today.

Of course, telling a story has other purposes, too.  Getting the reader emotionally involved, for instance.  But if your story gets the reader emotionally involved but doesn’t establish the need, you’re losing money and donors.

The story above is a good example of that.  It doesn’t establish the need for medicines and clean water.  It focuses on the part of the story that the donor can do nothing about.  That means it’s the wrong story.

Or more precisely, it’s the wrong part of the refugee family’s story.

Here’s what would raise more money: focus the story on the family’s need for medicine and water now.  For instance, talk about the Uncle’s heart condition and how he can’t get his regular meds – but the donor can help provide them.

Or focus the story on how the kids keep getting sick from the contaminated water in the refugee camp – but the donor can provide clean water. 

What To Do, Part II

Go scan your fundraising.  Look at the stories you tell.  Do the stories you tell focus on the need that a beneficiary is facing today?

Or are they focused on how the beneficiary arrived in their current situation?  Or are they focused on something that the donor can do nothing about?

If any of those are true for you, focus the story in your next appeal on the need being faced right now

This might feel like you’re telling the wrong story.  Or that you’re only telling part of the story.

But you’ll be focusing on the part of the story that the donor can help.  You’ll be illustrating what needs to be done today and how the donor can do it.  And you’ll be thrilled by how much more money comes in! 

Poor Name, Great Lesson


My mentors always warned me to avoid a particular type of story.

Here’s why…

They noticed that some appeals for children’s charities would raise a lot more money than other appeals. 

Yet all of the appeals had a story about a child in need – and the appeals all featured the same offer.  What was the difference?

They dug into the appeals and noticed one big difference:

  • In the appeals that raised the most, the stories were focused on the situation the child was in today.  They barely mentioned the parents of the child, or what caused the child to be in the situation they were in. 
  • In the appeals that raised less, the stories spent significant time and energy talking about the parents and their role in the child’s situation.  The stories spent less time talking about the situation the child was in today. 

These Fundraisers came up with a theory to explain why this happens:

  • When the focus of the story is on the child and their current situation of need, readers would therefore focus on the child and want to help the child.  This would cause the appeal to raise a lot of money.
  • When too much of the story is focused on the parent and/or the parent’s actions, some readers would focus on the parent.  This means that fewer readers would focus on the child, and fewer people would give.  So these appeals raised less money.

To describe stories where the parent or the actions of the parent overshadowed the situation the child was in, my mentors used the term “toxic mom.” 

I’ve taken the liberty to rename this the “toxic parent” problem.  This was taught to me in a more chauvinistic time.  Pinning this problem only on mothers is ridiculous.

Example Time

I’m sure you’ve seen this yourself.

The well-meaning nonprofit tells a story like this…

  • “Patrick has been in and out of rehab several times.  Because when he drinks, he occasionally gets violent.  His two young daughters need a safe place to stay, and your gift today will help them.”

Opening that story by talking about Patrick is a great way to raise less money.  Why?  Because some readers will think the story is about Patrick.  And other readers will think Patrick caused these problems for himself, that he’s an addict, and addicts are weak-willed people who can’t keep their act together. 

I’m not saying any of those reactions are correct.  But they are all reactions that take the focus off helping the girls, which is the reason the letter exists and was sent to the reader.  And they all happened because of the way the story was told.

The story would have been more effective if it had been told like this…

  • “Katy and Emma are two young girls in a tough situation.  One of their parents is occasionally violent after drinking.  The girls are too young to be on their own.  They need a safe place to stay, and your gift today will help them.”

All of my experience indicates that the second approach to telling the story would result in more money raised.

Poor Name, But Great Lesson

I was warned to edit the stories so that the “toxic parent” never overshadowed the child in need.  That was a good lesson. 

But the Big Lesson is to keep your reader’s attention in the place that is most likely to cause them to give a gift.

And that place is the problem that your beneficiary is facing today.

The “toxic parent” is not necessarily “toxic” because he or she is evil.  The parent is “toxic” because any time spent in a letter/email/story on the person who caused the problem means time your reader is not focused on the person in need, the problem they are facing, and how the donor can help today.   

Watch out for anything in your fundraising that takes the reader’s focus off of what’s happening today and what the donor can do about it!

“You’ve got some PR in your fundraising”

public relations

Most people do not expect Public Relations strategies to raise money today.

That’s why I’m always surprised when organizations put PR in their appeals and then are surprised that their appeal raises less money than it could.

Short & Sweet

Keep PR out of your direct response fundraising.  That’s your appeals, e-appeals, and newsletters (if you’d like your newsletter to raise money).

Why?  Because PR is meant to increase goodwill between the reader and the organization.  Merriam-Webster defines it this way: “the business of inducing the public to have understanding for and goodwill toward a person, firm, or institution.”

But the appeals that raise the most money are relentlessly focused on motivating the reader to take action now.  That’s a completely different goal and – when pursued – results in a completely different appeal.

Two Places PR Sneaks In

In my experience, here are the two ways PR shows up most often in appeals:

  1. A story of a person who has already been helped
  2. A description of the organization, or its programs, meant to make the reader believe that the organization is good at what it does

In my experience, including either of those things in an appeal causes the appeal to raise less money, not more. 

  • A note on the #2 item above.  I often hear nonprofits say things like, “But we have to tell them how effective we are!”  Here’s the truth as I’ve experienced it: how effective your organization is (and similar sentiments) is something like the seventh-most important thing at motivating a person to make a gift to an appeal. 

    If you’ve done a great job communicating and repeating the six things that are more likely to motivate a person to give a gift – things like a great offer, strong urgency, clear negative consequences to inaction, etc. – then by all means mention how effective your organization is. But make sure you cover the more important stuff first.

The Place For PR

There is absolutely a place for PR in your nonprofit communications toolkit. 

I’ve seen PR succeed at getting nonprofits in front of new, large groups of potential donors.  I’ve seen PR lay the groundwork for successful fundraising campaigns.  I’ve seen PR get nonprofits out of communication jams.

But good PR is always focused on helping an organization raise more money in the future. 

And an appeal or e-appeal is focused on helping an organization raise more money today.

Mind Blown In 3, 2, 1…

Here’s a mind-bender for you:

A successful, hard-hitting appeal is excellent PR.

How?  If successful PR “increases goodwill between the person and the organization,” then a successful appeal is excellent PR because it motivates a lot of people to give a gift – and every one of those donors feels great about giving

If that’s not goodwill, I don’t know what is.

It’s just that the “goodwill” was developed through the act of giving.

This is the secret I wish more small- to medium-sized organizations knew: the best way to increase goodwill among their donors is to get their donors to give more often, not by telling donors how great the organization is. 

So the next time you look at one of your appeals or e-appeals and think, “We’ve got some PR in our fundraising,” take it out.  Focus your appeal instead on your offer and a strong ask.  You’ll increase goodwill and raise more money at the same time!

Embed the Problem in the Solution

problem solution

Doing some head-to-head testing, we noticed something powerful.

The phrase:

  • “Your gift today will provide clean water for a family”

Raised less money than the phrase:

  • “Your gift today will provide clean, disease-free water for a family.”

This little test teaches a couple powerful things that I’ve seen work again and again…

Embed the Problem in How You Describe the Solution

You see this all the time in political fundraising:

  • “Elect Biden for a Trump-free future!”
  • “Elect Trump to save our country from socialism!”

In both of those cases, the copywriter has embedded the problem (or the enemy) in the solution.  The copywriter is making it clear that something bad will happen if the donor doesn’t give a gift. 

This is a powerful 2-for-1 because you hit two buttons in the donor’s brain in one sentence:

  • You hit the “I want to do the positive thing!” button
  • You hit the “I want to stop the negative thing!” button

You already know that the more reasons you can give your donor to give a gift right now, the more likely a donor is to respond to your fundraising.  And the copywriting tactic above allows you to provide two reasons in one sentence.

Where You Can Use This Tactic

Here are three main places we use this powerful tactic:

  • The first time your letter or email describes what the donor’s gift will do
  • The P.S.
  • The headline of your reply card / landing page

Those are the high-profile locations that donors are most likely to see as they scan your direct response letters and emails.  This tactic allows you to use those high-profile locations as effectively as possible.

This tactic works great any time space or attention is limited.  In other words, if you aren’t using this in your Facebook and Google ads, you could be raising more money.

Example Time

Here are a slew of made-up examples to show you how this tactic can work across any sector:

  • You can provide racially-blind admissions assistance
  • You can provide gospel teaching that’s free from relativism
  • You can kill the cancer and save the person
  • You can end the commercialization of our town by supporting the arts
  • You can stop the developers and stand for the land
  • You can stick it to the pharmaceutical companies and fund research that will save lives
  • You can erase the shortfall and protect the kids

You get it. 

Now, go look at your fundraising.  How can you embed the problem in how you describe what your donor’s gift will do? 

Your Mass Donor Fundraising Is “Stewardship” (and here’s why that’s important)


Jeff Brooks recently wrote an incredible post called “Fundraising vs. Stewardship: Which Is More Important?”

You should read it.

I want to show you how the “which is more important” argument – though it sounds academic – is having real-world consequences for your organization right now.

And it’s those consequences that cause some organizations to out-raise their peers, and some organizations to never “make the leap” to the next level. 

Where It Starts

Here’s what I think this whole debate comes from:

  • I think most organizations don’t believe that donors enjoy giving to anything other than events.

Organizations believe that it’s not really possible that a donor could enjoy giving to a piece of direct mail, an email, a radio-thon, etc. 

These organizations believe mass donor fundraising is somehow a negative act.  They believe donors don’t like appeals or emails.  That we fundraisers have to “twist the arm” of donors, or emotionally manipulate them, to get donors to give a gift. 

The Demonstrably Untrue Argument

If you believe that arm-twisting or emotional manipulation is necessary to get a gift, of course you will enjoy stewardship activities more than “fundraising” activities. 

These organizations think something like, “Now that the icky job of fundraising is done, it will be so great to steward our donors.”

There’s even an argument that goes something like this: Stewardship is the way we keep our donors giving to us year after year.  

That’s demonstrably untrue.  How do you explain all those organizations who don’t do any meaningful stewardship, yet they retain a significant portion of their donors each year? 

The Consequences

In my experience, believing that mass donor fundraising is a negative act results in the following tactical mistakes:

  • Asking donors less frequently than you could be
  • Refusing to put a reply card and reply envelope in your printed receipts
  • Refusing to turn your newsletter into a fundraising vehicle
  • Always telling a story of “the good you’ve already done” in appeals and e-appeals

All of those things are done out of a belief that Asking in mass donor fundraising is a negative thing and will – sooner or later – drive donors away.

However, it’s doing the opposite of those things that raises the most money AND increases donor retention:

  • Asking donors more frequently than you think you can
  • Putting a reply card and reply envelope in your printed receipts
  • Turning your newsletter into a revenue-generating machine
  • Never telling a story of “the good you’ve already done” in appeals and e-appeals

Every one of those things, done well, works like crazy.  (It’s why so many of our clients are having incredible years.  Some of them are sharing that they’re embarrassed to talk about how much money they’ve raised to their peer organizations.)   

So I ask you a question: if the definition of “stewardship” is something like “making donors feel good about their giving so that they give again” – then if all of those tactics above increase donor retention, don’t they qualify as effective stewardship?

Donors Love to Give

Donors get joy from giving – whether that’s giving to an appeal letter or at an enjoyable event.

Donors love to give.

In every way, in any form.

They don’t give every time they are asked.  (In the same way, you don’t buy your favorite product or service every time you see it advertised.  And you don’t feel bad about it when you don’t.)

So as an organization, ask yourself if you believe that mass donors love to give to your mass donor fundraising.  Because if you believe donors love to give, you’ll make different decisions about your fundraising.  And those choices will help you raise more money.

And it will bring more joy to your donors at the same time.  

Who to Mail Your Newsletter To

mail you letter

Your donors.  Mail your newsletter to your donors.

More specifically, here’s who to send your newsletter to:

  • If you send three or fewer newsletters per year, send your newsletters to all donors who have given a gift in the last 24 months
  • If you send 4 or more newsletters per year, send your newsletters to all donors who have given a gift in the last 18 months

Who Not to Mail Your Newsletter To

Here’s who not to send your newsletter to:

  • Non-donors
  • Volunteers
  • Local organizations and businesses who are not donors

Why?  Because every time we’ve analyzed the results of sending newsletters to that group we find the same thing: you lose money because it costs more to send the newsletter to that group than the revenue you’ll receive from mailing those groups.

Send Your Newsletter to Your Major Donors

Here’s a tactic we often use to increase the number of major donors who read (and donate to) your newsletter:

  • Instead of sending them a folded newsletter in a #10 envelope, send the newsletter unfolded in a 9”x12” envelope
  • Hand-write their address on the envelope
  • Add a cover letter that thanks the donor for their donation, and tells them that they’ll see how their donation made a difference when they read the newsletter.
  • Hand-sign the cover letter.  You can even write a personal note on it if you’d like.
  • Include a customized reply card and reply envelope

If you’d like to take this a step further, email the major donor on the day you send the newsletter to let them know to look for it.  If that email is sent by your Executive Director, your ED will receive replies from some majors thanking her for letting them know!  It’s a great opportunity to deepen the relationship with those donors.

What Postage to Use

For your Mass donors, send your newsletter using nonprofit postage. 

The only regular exception to that rule is if there’s a deadline to respond to your newsletter and you’re sending it out later than you planned.  For instance, say your newsletter has an offer (on the back page, of course) to write a note of encouragement to hospital patients who are stuck in the hospital for the holidays.  But you’re mailing just 3 weeks before the holidays begin.  Then, by all means, use first class postage.

For your Major donors, use first class postage.  Use a live stamp if you can.  And set the stamp at a slight angle so it’s obvious that a human put the stamp on the envelope, not a machine. (Thanks for that tip, John Lepp!)

This is a Great Beginning…

The recommendations above are a solid foundation for who to send your newsletter to, and how to send it out.

Over time, your system will get more complicated.  You’ll discover things like, “it’s worth it for us to send our newsletter to donors who gave between 24 and 36 months ago, who have given $1,000 or more, because we reactivate enough lapsed major donors to make up for the expense.”

Or you’ll discover things like, “When we have a newsletter with Offer X, it’s worth it to mail all donors who have given to Offer X in the last 36 months.” 

Great.  Love it.  And if you’re not there yet, start here! 

Read the series:

Please Don’t ‘Rest’ Your Donors


The spreadsheet below illustrates a powerful truth:

The more recently a donor has given to your organization, the more likely they are to give to you again.

So for heaven’s sake don’t “rest” your donors and miss out on your best chance for them to give you another gift – and all the revenue that comes with it.

Short Story, Then Data

Let me tell you what you’re looking at.

A nonprofit was working on their January appeal. We recommended that the appeal be sent to all donors who had given a gift in the last 18 months.

They said, “But we can’t include the people who gave at the end of the year. They’ll be annoyed to be asked again so soon.”

We told them that the people who gave recently are exactly who they want to mail to. We said that recent donors were more likely to respond to the January appeal than other donors.

They didn’t really believe us.

But they agreed to proceed because everything we’d been doing with them was working like crazy. And we promised to analyze the response to the appeal to see if what we’d been teaching them about recency was true. *

Data, Sorted by Number of Months Since Previous Gift

Here’s the data. Pay particular attention to the column in yellow. It shows you the response rate sorted by the number of months since the donor’s previous gift. The farther down the column you go, the more months it had been since the donor had given a gift.

last gift spreadsheet

Look at the top line! The people who had given a gift in the last 30 days were the people who responded best to the appeal!

The group of people who had given a gift in the last 2 months gave a little less than half the total income from this appeal.

As you go down the yellow “% Response” column you see that the more recently a donor had given a gift to this organization, the more likely they were to give again.

What Does This Tell You?

Do not “rest” your donors by pulling them out of appeals for several weeks or months.

Do not “take your donors out and not ask them again until next year.” (Last Friday on Free Review Fridays there was an organization that was doing that.)

By waiting to ask your donors again you’re reducing the chance they will give to you again, not increasing the chance. In other words, you’re raising less money, not more. **

The $$$$ Consequences of ‘Resting’

Let’s look at a couple scenarios for the big group of donors who had given a gift 1 month prior. There were 3,686 of them who received the appeal. 9% of them gave a gift, and they gave a total of $20,676.

First scenario. What would have happened if this organization had “rested” their donors for a couple of months? Those 3,686 donors would not have received this appeal. The organization would have lost out on $20,676 in gross revenue.

Twenty. Thousand. Bucks. Just. Poof. Because the organization was fearful of the mostly mythical “donor fatigue.” That’s a concrete example of how fears around “asking too much” cause organizations to raise significantly less money.

Second scenario. What would have happened if they’d “rested” those donors for 6 months? According to the data, we can estimate that only 5% of them would have responded instead of 9%. So the organization would have raised $11,481 from that group instead of $20,676 (presuming average gift size is the same).

They would have raised $9,195 less by “resting” their donors for 6 months.

Think about that the next time someone in your organization wants to rest your donors.

And the crazy part is that it gets even worse! In addition to raising $9,195 less from that group of donors, by holding that group out of appeals and newsletters for 6 months the organization would completely miss out on all the other gifts that group would have given over those months.

Don’t Worry About “Donor Fatigue”

I can already hear the question.

“But what about donor fatigue?”

I have never seen “donor fatigue” in an organization that sends out fewer than 18 pieces of direct mail a year (plus emails). ***

As you mail and email your donors more often, you’ll hear complaints, sure. And the Board won’t like it. And a small percentage of major donors will ask to be taken out of your mass donor communications.

But in exchange for those “costs” you’ll raise more money, have higher donor retention rates, and do more good.

The organization that sent the appeal letter above used to send 8 appeals and 2 newsletters a year. With our help they currently send 13 appeals a year and 4 newsletters. Plus emails.

They raise a lot more money than they used to.

And their donor retention increased. They used to retain about 55 out of 100 donors every year. Now they retain about 63 out of 100 donors every year.

In other words, they communicated more with their donors and FAR more good things happened than bad things. Put more precisely, they gladly accepted a few complaints and treated a few major donors differently in exchange for more revenue, donors, and impact.

Of course you have to send out good fundraising. Donor-focused appeals with good offers. Newsletters that give donors the credit. Etcetera.

More is More

Don’t “rest” your donors.

Send out more appeals, e-appeals and newsletters.

The way to get better at those appeals, e-appeals and newsletters is to practice.

You’ll be better at it a year from now. But only if you start practicing today.

Seek and accept expertise, but don’t let that delay you from starting.

As soon as you can.

And include your most recent donors!

* Of course there are cases where recency should not be the primary segmentation variable. If you’re already using a segmentation model more sophisticated than RFM, thank your lucky stars you’ve had the chance to learn such things, and know that this post is not for you.

** This applies to major donors, too, though not quite as linearly. The maxim holds, but you may know things about individual donors that exempts those particular donors. For instance, perhaps they have a family foundation that gives gifts once a year. Or they’ve told you that they’re only going to give one gift this year. The path to increased revenue from major donors, in our experience, is to be comfortable asking them for gifts more than once a year (within a system of Asking, Thanking and Reporting). The mistake is to take one major donor’s preference and use it as a strategy for all major donors.

*** The key here is to measure the right things. You want to measure and prioritize donor retention levels by segment, and Net Revenue. You want to pay the appropriate amount of attention to complaints, unsubscribes, and contacts from Majors. Pay attention to the performance of the group, not the squeaky wheels. Segmentation is your friend.

Why You Shouldn’t Use the Word “Vulnerable” in Your Appeals


Though I’m a great believer in being vulnerable when you create your fundraising, I never use the word “vulnerable” when writing fundraising.

And when organizations that I work with use the word “vulnerable” or the phrase “the most vulnerable,” I delete it.

Here’s Why

When you’re Asking for support in your appeals and e-appeals, what usually works best is to present donors with a problem that is happening right now, one that the donor can solve with a gift today.

The problem with the word “vulnerable” is it accidently tells donors that there is not a problem today.

According to Webster’s, Vulnerable means:

  1. Capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.
  2. Open to attack or damage

Look at those definitions again. In both of those cases there is nothing wrong right now. A person is “capable” of being hurt. Or is “open to attack.”

Think about it this way. Say you received two simple e-appeals right next to each other in your inbox. One e-appeal asked you to give a gift to help a person who is in need today. The other e-appeal asked you to help a person who might be in need sometime soon. All things being equal, most donors will give to help the person who is in need today.

By describing your beneficiaries as “vulnerable,” you’re focusing donors’ attention on the fact that there’s nothing wrong yet. You’re telling donors that there might be a problem in the future. So there’s less of a reason for a donor to give a gift right now.

By using the word “vulnerable” you’ve caused fewer people to send in a gift today.

Here’s What I Replace “Vulnerable” With

Instead of focusing on what might happen, focus on what’s happening right now.

What this usually means is that instead of focusing your fundraising on all the people who might need help, you focus it on the people who need help right now.

Here are a couple of examples…

“Your gift to help vulnerable children in our schools learn to read will…” becomes, “Your gift to help a child who is a grade behind in reading level will…”

“Your gift to protect people who are vulnerable to this disease will…” becomes, “Your gift will help people who have this disease by… “

“Your gift will help the most vulnerable…” becomes, “Your gift will help the people who need it most right now…”

If your organization uses “vulnerable” or “the most vulnerable,” edit your future fundraising to talk about the people (or a person) who needs help now. You’ll start to raise more money.

The Big Picture

If you stop using “vulnerable,” will your next appeal raise twice as much money? No.

But if my experience is any indication, I think you’ll raise more money than you’re raising now.

Two reasons.

First, even though your use of “vulnerable” is a small thing, successful appeals and newsletters are made up of a hundred of small things. The better you get at noticing and improving the small things, the more money you raise.

Second, not using “vulnerable” is a very real step on the way towards a powerful principle to operate by. The principle is that you’ll raise more money with your direct response fundraising (appeals, e-appeals, radio, TV, etc.) if you share the most compelling problems your organization and/or beneficiaries are experiencing right now.

Sharing a current problem (not a potential future problem) with donors is one of the ways you can break through all the noise and increase the number of people who send you gifts.

And anything you can do to break through all the noise right now will help, don’t you think?

How Wildly Successful Appeals Work

wildly successful

This is not a “quick tip.”

But if you’re the type of person who really thinks about your fundraising – what the purpose of each piece is, what makes some approaches work better than others – keep reading…

Because I have a helpful way for you to think about your appeals and e-appeals. And by “helpful” I mean “will help you raise more money with your next one.”

Our “Conceptual Model” for Appeals

Here it is…

  • The purpose of the Appeal is to deliver the Offer.

  • The purpose of the Offer is to illustrate what the donor’s gift will do to meet the Need

  • The purpose of the Need is to help your donor want to do something today

  • The purpose of the Story in your appeal is to illustrate the Need

If you follow that formula, you’ll give yourself your best chance of success.

If you need a refresher on what makes a successful Offer and how to create them for your organization, download our free eBook on Offers here.

Here’s a bit about each step…

The Purpose of the Appeal

The purpose of your appeal letter or e-appeal is to deliver your offer.

There’s a consequence of this approach that is both helpful and hard: you need to remove everything from your appeals that doesn’t help deliver the offer.

Should you mention your upcoming event? Nope. Should you include links to your social accounts? Nope. Should you “tell donors more about what we do”? Nope.

Just deliver your offer.

The Purpose of Your Offer

The purpose of the Offer is to illustrate what the donor’s gift will do to meet the Need.

An easy way to describe “offers” is that they are the promise an appeal makes for what will happen when the donor gives a gift.

“Please support our community theater” is an offer. So is, “Give a gift today to join us in the battle against cancer.” As well as, “$56 provides a night of safety for a family experiencing homelessness.”

When reading your appeals, donors are always asking themselves, “What will my gift do?”

Your offer is the answer.

The Purpose of the Need

The purpose of the Need is to help your donor want to do something today.

We see something again and again: when organizations share Needs with their donors in their appeals and e-appeals, they raise more money.

And conversely, when organizations do not share Needs in their appeals – usually sharing only successes and offering the donors the chance to “continue this amazing work” or “support our ongoing programs” – they raise less money.

In a nutshell, most donors don’t often think about the Needs your organization works on. They don’t remember that someone is hurting right now. They often need to be reminded.

And when they’re reminded, they give more often and give higher amounts.

The Purpose of the Story

The purpose of the Story in your appeal is to illustrate the Need.

We tell stories of individual people (when possible) in appeals because they illustrate the Need to donors far more effectively than dry statistics and large numbers.

But perhaps more importantly, stories are used because they’re more likely to touch a donor’s heart. Because when you’ve touched a donor’s heart, you’re already three quarters of the way to them making a gift. All you need then is a great offer to turn your donor’s intention into action.

Now What?

I realize this is conceptual.

But what I want you to realize is that this model is powerful and effective.

It works again and again and again. It’s the “default setting” for every appeal we consult on, write, and review.

And it makes creating appeals a LOT easier. You don’t have to come up with a new approach each time. You have a model that works, and you simply “paint by numbers” for each appeal.

My advice to you: try it. And if you’ve already tried it, try it again but work to do it even better. Make sure the Story perfectly illustrates the Need, and that the Need is perfectly met by the Offer.

You (and your organization) can learn to create appeals like this. You’ll love how much money comes in and how much more engaged your donors are!