A Plea for Help


At its simplest, an appeal letter or e-appeal is a plea for help.

And to be most successful, an appeal needs two things:

  1. A problem.  This is the reason for the plea.
  2. A solution to that problem that the donor can provide with their gift.

Do your appeals get this right?

For instance, many organizations send appeals that primarily ask donors to “‘support our organization.”

But asking donors to “support our organization” doesn’t raise as much money as asking donor to “solve a problem with your gift.”


Because when an organization asks for “support,” they end up trying to prove that they are worthy of that support.  So those appeals spend a meaningful part of their letter or email telling the donor that the organization is effective, and sharing a story of a person who has already been helped.

But that approach reduces engagement and money raised. 

Think of it this way: in the Emergency Room, when someone’s life is on the line and help is needed “STAT,” do the nurses first share about people they’ve helped in the past?  No.  They yell for exactly what they need.

When a ship at sea is sinking and they sent out an SOS message, do they also include stories of all the successful voyages they’ve made before?  No.  They send their location and they plead for help.

A plea for “support” simply isn’t as strong – and doesn’t get as good results – as a plea for help.

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?