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In the age of multi-layered marketing, our attention spans are juggling multiple news outlets, social media channels, and promotional materials. 2020 is a difficult time to be a fundraiser and crafting a solicitation that cuts through the noise can be even more challenging. Here is your guide to writing a strong fundraising appeal that generates gifts.

Provide a resonating cause and a strong author

Before drafting your appeal, consider what cause resonates most with your audiences. Have you done a fundraising campaign in the past that was successful? Chances are, that cause will likely resonate well again. Donors are more likely to engage with a cause they care about, so make sure your appeal is catered towards the audience you are targeting and where they have given in the past. Not sure what your donors care about? Check out this recent blog post for some guidance.

Also, consider who the appeal is coming from. It can be tempting and feel professional to author an appeal from your Board President or Chancellor, but are those really the people most impacted by the donations?

If you are a part of an institution that works with students, consider having a student author the appeal since the funds will directly impact their university experience.

Create a clear case for support

Every donor wants to know why they should support your cause. A strong case for support can help the donor understand how they can make a difference by giving to your organization.

Consider these three steps to a strong case for support. Be specific, be actionable, and be timely. 

  • Specific: where are the funds raised going? 
    • Eleanor’s Dance Scholarship non-profit is raising funds for local dance students to attend ballet classes.
  • Actionable: how will the funds make an impact?
    • Underprivileged high school students in the greater Austin, TX area will be able to take dance classes, build a strong peer community, and learn healthy habits without financially burdening their families
  • Timely: when will the funds make an impact?
    • Dance students will use the funds to support their dance classes during the 2020-2021 school year.

These three elements clearly outline what you are asking of the reader and how, where, and when their funds can make a difference. 

Open with a thank you

If your appeal is going to a previous donor, make sure to thank them for their last gift before asking for more funding. Phrases like “Thank you for your previous support to…” and “With the support of big-hearted donors like you our organization has…” can help soften the ask for those who have recently given. Your stewardship also helps the donor understand that they are really making an impact, that you do need their support, and they can help change the experiences your institution can provide to the community.

Keep it short!

Everyone’s inboxes and mailboxes are flooded every day with messaging from all kinds of sources. Advertisers, influencers, political campaigns… you name it! All businesses are fighting for our attention. A long appeal, even with heartfelt intentions, can hinder the recipient from reading it if there is too much text. Keep in mind that Constant Contact recently conducted a study that showed that emails with no more than 20 lines of text or 200 words generated higher click-through rates.

For your snail mail appeals, a good rule of thumb is to keep your appeal under 1-page of text. This will also save on paper and postage costs.

Highlight, bold, or italicize your call to action

No matter how much time, passion, and energy we pour into our appeal writing, chances are the recipient isn’t likely to read the whole copy. Think about it… When was the last time you read an entire appeal that someone outside of your organization sent to you? To help guide the reader to your call to action, bold it! italicize it! CALL IT OUT. This can help draw the donor’s eye to what you are asking them to contribute to and how they can make a difference.

A potential donor should be able to scan your appeal and still understand what is going on. Try using bold on three crucial sentences that highlight the case and include the ask. That way the donor can quickly see the problem and how they can help solve it.

Also, consider drawing attention to key facts or quotes that may empower the reader to give. Did your institution recently receive high-marks from a national association? Did a scholarship recipient share how much the funding received changed their university experience? Institutional pride points help the donor know that their gifts are not going to waste. Toot your horn!

Use photos, quote boxes, and bullet points

Photographs can be a great way to break up your solicitation text and offer an opportunity to visually show how a donor’s dollars can make a difference. Consider using images that are taken of people to show who the dollars are affecting. If your appeal is authored by someone unique, provide a headshot. 

A quote box with an impactful message is another opportunity to draw in the reader and share a key message. Pull out text from your appeal and insert it into a quote section within the copy.

Bullet points can also break up an appeal’s copy and call out the many things funded by a donor’s contribution. For example:

Your gift to the Southern State University Fund will:

  • support scholarships for students with financial need,
  • help establish an emergency fund for students in difficult situations,
  • create travel experiences for undergraduates interested in studying aboard,
  • and more!

Consider closing with a P.S.

Much like using bold or italics formatting to highlight key parts of your appeal, a P.S. can be another opportunity to call out important information. It’s a great place to reiterate your call to action, include a Save the Date for an upcoming crowdfunding campaign, or to say thank you!

Hire a copyeditor! 

At the end of the day, your organization is a professional institution asking someone for their hard-earned money. Improper grammar, poor punctuation, and spelling errors reflect poorly on any institution and can demonstrate to the reader that you don’t care enough about what they are reading to proofread. Have a professional copyeditor review all of your solicitations before sending them. If you don’t have one on staff, consider using a freelance accredited copywriter from websites like UpWork or Fiverr.

Written By: Emily Denning Todd

Katie Haystead

Katie Haystead

Senior Vice President, Partnerships

With over a decade of experience working with K12 schools and higher education institutions’ fundraising efforts, Katie Haystead now oversees the partnerships team at Community Funded. Her passion for partner success and satisfaction aligns with Community Funded’s priorities and Katie’s unique background is well suited to manage the day to day operations of our partnerships team as well as new market acquisition.

Prior to joining the team at Community Funded, Katie served many roles within the Fundraising Division at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Her experience ranges from working onsite and remotely with clients executing phonathon programs, developing annual giving strategies, onsite consultations and also developing multichannel strategies allowing for strong synergy between annual giving channels and creating strong major and planned gift pipelines.

Katie is based in Metro Detroit and is a graduate of Central Michigan University, where she worked for the phonathon for 3 years while working towards her History Major.

Kim Jennings

Kim Jennings

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Kim Jennings, CFRE is a skilled fundraising leader who believes in the power of Christian education to raise up thoughtful, strong, committed leaders who can make our world a better place for all.

Kim Jennings

Todd Turner

Director of Digital Strategies, Generis

In addition to his 11 years overseeing Chuck Swindoll’s Insight Living Ministries communications department, Todd Turner has worked as a digital strategist for faith based organizations across the globe..

Kim Jennings

Jennifer Perrow

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Jennifer is a skilled fundraising and communications professional who helps ministries articulate vision, communicate mission, and raise abundant funds to advance Kingdom priorities.