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!


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.

One comment on “How Wildly Successful Appeals Work

  1. This “model” just makes sense to me. Thank you for taking the time to teach Steven. And every single non- profit should watch your Free Review Fridays. They have been my “school” along with books and webinars from Jeff Brooks and Tom Ahern. I wish EVERY non-profit knew about this method. I should just be an ambassador for your model of copywriting…because it’s SO needed…(I just shake my head reading the letters I get in the mail!)

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