Since Thanksgiving, I have received 90 fundraising appeals through the mail. I spent a morning looking through each and every one of them.
Friends, we have to do better.
7 Reasons You’re Not Getting Enough Donations (and what you can do about it)
1) You’re starting your letter “Dear Friend.” 32 out of 90 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. 47 out of 90 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. 41 out of the 90 letters I received told just the facts, ma’am. Another 29 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 40 of 90 letters I received were text only! Another 24 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: 60 out of 90 letters I received–a full two-thirds–used exactly the same language to me that they would use to someone who had never given them a penny!
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! 81 out of 90 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, Carol Kraemer, wrote by hand, “So grateful for your wonderful, longtime support!” You can count on a renewed gift from the Fischmans.)
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 60 of the letter-writers realized that (even if their P.S. was a bit perfunctory).
As for the 30 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.
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 12!
As a person who gets a lot of fundraising mail and email but who does not work in the business, these are things that annoy me most:
– sending too much. I give at about the same time every year to most things. Often by then I have up to half a dozen begging letters from each organization I regularly give to. They are wasting my money and time by doing this. And when every organization does this the mass of paper or electronic information is so big I sometimes just throw a bunch out.
– overpersonalization. Using my name too much, or trying to fake something handwritten (e.g., the fake post-it) are disingenuous and/or creepy. I would rather you call me friend once than use my name 5 times like a used car salesman.
– not getting to the point. It’s nice to have those long detailed descriptions of what the organization does with my money, colorful brochures, graphs and pictures, but keep that separate from why you are asking for money.
– maybe I’m strange, but I prefer data not a single story I may or may not be able to relate to and I don’t care about pictures of smiling children. One food bank charity turned me off so much with the choice of story they told I think I skipped giving that year.
Dennis Fischman says
Ruthling, I’m like you: my household gives at roughly the same time to mostly the same organizations each year. The best kind of “personalization” a nonprofit could engage in would be to track our giving behavior and ask us at just the right time, when we are ready to give!
You say you’re a data person, though, and the data say that nonprofits that ask for money more often do better than those that don’t. It’s not a waste if it works. And nonprofits that tell stories raise more money than those that don’t.
Lynne Wester says
Ruth, most stories work better than data, but you certainly have the right to be so,I cited in a manner you appreciated. Over solicitation is a huge problem in our industry and the number one reason donors don’t give again. We have also learned that our donors’ needs are changing, I always say the shorter the communication the better. Thanks for commenting and expressing your views!