How to 8x Your Appeal Results

A client of ours was thrilled with the first appeal we did for them; it raised 8 times more than the appeal letter they sent to their donors the previous month.

Both letters were sent to the same group of donors, during the summer, roughly a month apart. (And there weren’t any results-skewing shenanigans like ‘we added a matching grant’ or ‘the second appeal went only to Major Donors.’)

There was much rejoicing! But at first they thought it was some kind of fundraising magic. So we showed them that the appeal just followed a proven formula that works for all different kinds and sizes of nonprofits.

We’re not talking big numbers here; their previous appeal raised $2,157. Our appeal raised $18,095. I mention this because even the smallest organizations can use the storytelling and fundraising principles I’m about to show you to raise a lot more money!

Here’s a part of the appeal letter this nonprofit sent just before working with us:

“When Sara and her two children moved from Florida to Washington, the last thing she expected to be was homeless.

Sara was excited about a new job opportunity in Seattle, but the job fell through and suddenly she was living out of her car. Her children, 5-year-old Jasmin and 12-year-old Luke, were devastated. Sara, Luke, and Jasmin wondered about things like; where would their next meal come from, would they ever have a roof over their head again, and how could they excel in school? Sara discovered Acres of Diamonds and made the difficult call to ask for help. Acres welcomed her warmly, and now this family resides at Acres getting help to rebuild their lives. Sara’s children suffered emotionally while living in their car, especially Jasmin. When she arrived at Acres, she was withdrawn and sad. Now that she has a place to call home, Jasmin is a vibrant kindergartner who looks forward to school and can be seen with a smile on her face. Luke is getting the support he needs to be successful in 7th grade. Through prayer and effort, Sara now has a job to provide for her family. Over time, Acres of Diamonds will support Sara and her children through The Path to Graduation programs. They will transition to independent living because of the generous support from people like you.

Will you help us continue this important work with families like Jasmin’s? Simply return the enclosed card…”

There are a couple things I want you to notice:

  • The family in the letter has already been helped. To repeat: they don’t need help. The ‘problem’ is already solved.
  • In the overall story this organization is telling in this letter, the donor doesn’t have an interesting, powerful role to play. All the donor can do is “continue this important work”
  • If the donor were to give a gift, they don’t know what sized gift will make a real difference – something that is very important for donors to know.

That is not a compelling fundraising letter and the results prove it. This letter falls into one of the most common fundraising letter traps.

Now look at the next letter this nonprofit sent to their donors, with our help:

“I have some urgent news to share with you.

Just a few days ago my phone rang and I received word that another mom and her 3 kids were in desperate need of help. Julianne had just fled her abuser. She was able to escape with her 3 kids in tow. But she had no place to go.

Stories like this one are all too common here at Acres. The need for more stable housing and resources to help homeless moms and kids is at an all-time high.

Our resources are thin right now and I could sure use your help. Homelessness does not take a summer vacation!

Your $35 gift secures a night of safety for one child or one mom.

Can I count on you to provide 1 night, 3 nights, maybe 5 nights of safety? Every night matters and brings a mom and her kids one step closer to feeling safe.”

Compare that letter to the first letter. See how there is:

  1. A problem to be solved — people that need help today!
  2. A specific way the donor’s gift will help, and a specific amount to do it.
  3. A clear way the donor can be the hero by sending in a gift today.

For your next appeal, whether it’s a mailed appeal letter, an e-appeal or an event, I encourage you to try this approach. You can be confident that it’s going to work; this is a proven, market-tested way of asking donors for support that works again and again.

And if you’d like to find out more, download our free eBook, Storytelling for ACTION. You’ll learn the three things nobody told you about using stories to raise money — including the two best types of stories and when to tell them.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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