Stay in the Now

In the now.

When asking for support in an appeal letter or e-appeal, stay in the now.

Don’t talk about what your organization has done in the past. Don’t talk about how many people you’ve helped in the past. Don’t tell a story about someone you’ve helped in the past.

Here’s why…

In our experience, the most successful appeals focus on what is happening now and what the donor can do about it. Here are some examples:

  • There is a person who has a disease, and you can supply the cure.
  • There’s a classroom of kids that’s behind in math. You can provide the tutoring to get them caught up and even testing ahead of grade level.
  • Today there’s a person with a vestibular disorder and she’s dizzy. You can connect her to a trained physician.

You get the idea.

Anything else in the appeal that’s not about “what’s happening right now and what the donor can do about it” tends to be:

  1. A distraction from what’s going on now, and
  2. Takes up space you could be using talking about what’s going on now

You should mention and focus on the good things that have happened in the past when you are Reporting back to your Reports (usually in your newsletters). Or when you have more time to make the ask, like at an event or in a meeting with a major donor.

But when you’re asking for support in an appeal or e-appeal – when donors are doing more “scanning” than reading – it’s “what’s happening right now that a donor can help with” that is the most likely to cause a donor to give a gift.

Two Futures to Mention

I can think of only two times to mention the future in an appeal.

The first is when you share what the outcome of the donor’s gift will be. Using the examples above, that could look something like this:

  • When you supply the cure, you completely eliminate the disease from a person’s body. They will go on to live a normal, healthy life!
  • The tutoring you make possible will radically improve the students’ understanding of math. They’ll become more likely to graduate, to go to college, and even to get high-paying jobs!
  • For a person with a vestibular disorder, connecting with a physician means they’ll get a proper diagnosis and be on the path to a dizziness-free life and be able to leave the house again.

The second is to share the vision of the organization for the future. That results in examples like this:

  • Your gift will also help eradicate the disease, creating a disease-free world!
  • Our goal is to create a world where every child possesses the math and STEM skills they need to succeed.
  • We believe that every person with a vestibular disorder deserves a good diagnosis, and your gift helps us work towards that future.

But in our experience, focusing on “what’s happening now and what the donor can do about it” is the surest way to a gift in the mail and email.


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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *