Write a better annual appeal

Chances are that on your to-do list in the next couple of weeks, you need to write the copy for your nonprofit’s year-end fundraising. If you start a draft now, you’ll have time to set it aside and then edit later.

Sector observers estimate that electronic newsletters or appeals are now equal in results to traditional printed direct-mail pieces (and likely to surpass the effectiveness of such older strategies soon). As you write, your copy will need to be appropriate for a range of email blasts, electronic newsletters, and/or printed pieces.

Here are some considerations:

Start with a story. Weave a story into your facts. End with a story. Plan to include high quality photographs of faces. Keep in mind, though, that the era of expressing your appeal message in terms of tragedy or need is over: your message must be about impact, results, and the difference your work makes.

Freshen your messengers. This is about finding the right third-party people to speak about the power of your mission. Remember that any testimonial about your work is always more valuable than YOU talking about you.

Relate your work to the here and now. Reference a current event or topical trend. Be sure your data is current and that you are not simply re-using the same appeal copy that more or less worked back in 2006.

Be memorable for the right reason. Memorable could be defined as that which is different, catchy, personal, tangible, and desirable. But be careful that in your goal to stand out, you may lose sight of your cause. Think of all the ads that were so funny that you told a friend about them, but when asked what the ad was for, you weren’t sure.

Make sure your “product” is tangible and defined. Be precise about what your nonprofit is actually delivering: school lunches, showcases for local artists, bed nets to prevent malaria, etc. Don’t confuse your mission with your product, i.e., saving the earth versus recycling bins for every household. If appropriate to your program delivery, describe precisely what $10, $25, or $50 buys.

Get some fresh eyes to test with. Have your 1-2 newest board members, who presumably are less familiar with your mission and work, provide feedback to a draft. Ask them for clarification and see if your messages are actually sinking in. If you have a trusted colleague in development at another nonprofit, offer to proofread each other’s work and give candid feedback.

All data cited needs context. If you say, “We provided shelter services to 2,500 animals last year,”your reader doesn’t know whether to despair or pop the champagne. Is that a dramatic increase? Or is it about the same as the year before? A much better statement of measurement is something like, “We will shelter 2,500 animals this year, an increase of 27% over 2010.”

Jargon alert! Words like “accessible,” “opportunities,” “services,” “help,” and “at-risk” are overused and inspecific. Say what you mean. “Help,” for example, can mean almost anything. Are you providing rides somewhere, paying for something, teaching classes? Then say so.

Determine your onliness (“only-ness”). Complete this sentence: “Our nonprofit is the only _______ that _______.” This gets right to the core of why your organization exists.

Make sure your call to action is specific, feasible and what is called “filmable.” (This means it’s easy for a person to visualize doing it.)

Hand out the megaphone. Social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter let your biggest fans sharetheir enthusiasm for your cause. Make sure your campaign is easilyre-tweeted, linked to, and referred to. One way to be completely”portable” is to provide copy about your cause that a fan can pasteright into a social media status update. Ask specifically that your readers pass along your message to people they know who are passionate about the same kinds of issues that they are.

Integrate online with direct mail. As you’re writing, think about the sequence and continuity of your printand electronic messages as an integrated campaign. For example, for your year-end appeal, you should consider sending an email, then the direct mail, then another email.

In closing, remember to invest in the future. It is easy, in these lean times, to focus only on the short-term, i.e.,only on your year-end appeal. But remember there is wisdom behind why we use so many agrarian terms in fundraising: we plant the seeds of awareness, cultivate donors carefully over time, harvest the benefits, and so on. Every step you take in development this fall should also have a long-range purpose, just as planting some bulbs in your garden now will bring lovely daffodils or tulips next spring.


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