From November through December 2016, I received fundraising appeals through the mail from more than 100 nonprofit organizations. About half the organizations sent more than one e letter to my wife and me asking for donations. I spent a morning looking through each and every one of them.
Friends, we have to do better. And we can.
If you didn’t get as many donations as you wanted to this year, here’s how to do better in 2017.
7 Reasons You’re Not Getting Enough Donations (and what you can do about it)
1) You’re starting your letter “Dear Friend.” A third of the letters I received called me Friend or Supporter–or didn’t call me anything at all. Wrong!
As fundraising expert Gail Perry says, “Your donor expects that you know her name and who she is, since she’s been sending you money for a while!” Fix this by using a good database and adding a First Name mail merge field to your appeal letter.
2) You’re mainly talking about your organization. Three-quarters of the letters were in French: they said “we, we, we.” But that’s making your organization the hero of the story!
As Seth Godin has pointed out, in a good appeal letter, the donor is the hero of the story. That’s why they give. Fix this by talking about how the donors are helping to right wrongs, save lives, or help people.
3) You’re not telling an “impact story.” There are six types of stories that nonprofits should tell. In your appeal letter, you should tell an impact story, showing how the donors’ contribution makes a difference. 42 out of the letters I received told just the facts, ma’am. Another 32 included a brief quotation from a client, or a general anecdote about a client, and how the agency helped them.
These letters blur on me. They all sound alike. Fix this by telling a compelling story about one person whose life is better because the donor helped.
4) You’re not including a photo. People are becoming more visually oriented, and a photo helps your appeal stand out. Yet 44 of 106 letters I received were text only! Another 27 included blurry black-and-white photos, or nice color photos that added nothing to the message.
Fix this by taking striking photos of people in action throughout the year. Then you won’t have to scramble for a picture in December.
5) You’re not letting me know you appreciate what I already gave. This, I find really shocking: nine out of ten appeal letters used exactly the same language to me that they would use to someone who had never given them a penny! And this has gotten worse since last year–even though the software for tracking your donors has improved.
Fix this by segmenting your list, writing different letters to prospects, lapsed donors, and renewing donors, and acknowledging the date and amount of the previous gift.
6) You’re not personalizing your letters. It used to be a no-brainer for Executive Directors, Development Directors, or Board members who knew the donor to write a personal note on appeal letters. People, we are going in the wrong direction on this! 90 out of 106 letters arrived in my mailbox with no personal touches whatever–even when my wife and I have known the person sending the letter for many years.
Fix this by composing your appeals long enough in advance to add those personal notes…and doing so. (Kudos to the Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund, whose Director wrote by hand, “So grateful for your wonderful, longtime support!” You can count on a renewed gift from the Fischmans. Ditto to the Highlander Center, Community Cooks, the Jewish Labor Committee, and the Somerville Homeless Coalition.)
7) You’re neglecting the power of the postscript. When people read letters, they look at the banner, the salutation, and the first line…and then their eyes jump to the bottom of the page. I’m happy to say that 66 of the letter-writers realized that (even if their P.S. was a bit perfunctory).
As for the 40 of you who didn’t add a postscript, you skipped doing the simplest thing you can do to increase donations! Fix this. Add a postscript unless there’s a really good reason not to.
Want More Donations? Look for Tips on Tuesday
You may be wondering now, “What did our appeal letters look like?” Go back and check your letter. If you made even one of those seven mistakes, you probably left donation money on the table.
How do you write better fundraising letters? I can help.
Between now and Tax Day 2016, read this blog every Tuesday. You will get a no-nonsense, how-to, “do it today” tip on every aspect of your appeal letter, from the salutation to the P.S.
Some of them will be so easy you’ll kick yourself for not doing them before! Some will take a little work–but I will show you how to do them, step by step, with video when necessary.
Look for Tips on Tuesday beginning next week, January 17! (And if you want professional advice uniquely suited to your organizations and its donors, email firstname.lastname@example.org.)