Ask a Pro:
Secrets of Writing Successful Fundraising Appeals, Part 2

From a copywriter's standpoint, writing a fundraising letter for a project-specific appeal or to elect (or support) a particular candidate is not much different from writing a standard sales letter.

But, as fundraising expert Bill Wilson pointed out in his recent interview with AWAI's Monthly Copywriting Genius (MCG), asking for institutional support – asking for a contribution to an organization or political party rather than support for a specific project or candidate – can be much harder. Why? Because it's difficult to develop the necessary excitement and personal appeal.

These appeals run the risk of being less exciting, Bill tells us, because, by their nature, they deal in more general ideas (like the organization's mission). They can fall into the trap of being drier, more subdued, and more "academic." It's easy to lose the all-important emotion. And less emotion means less of the impulse buy.

To overcome this problem, successful institutional appeals hide their nature behind the facade of being a project or program appeal. They highlight a project/program that the institution supported in the recent past and get the prospect hooked on the idea of continuing and expanding it (or something similar). It's a successful approach that uses the principle of "transparency."

[Editor's note: You no doubt remember that when you use the principle of transparency (which is covered in depth in AWAI's Accelerated and Masters copywriting courses), instead of selling your product directly, you sell your promise and the deeper benefits your prospect will receive. If you're selling a car, you do not sell the Hupmobile 5001CS; you sell the speed, personal sense of power, sexiness, and allure it brings. Or (depending on your prospect) the safety, comfort, and peace of mind it provides. We'll have more about transparency in a future issue of The Golden Thread.]

Bill gave this example:

The Whig Party needs money to operate, regardless of what candidates it's running for office. So it decides on a DM campaign to raise money for operating expenses. The traditional institutional approach is to say something akin to "Give your money to the Whig Party, because we're the party of Madison and because you believe in what we stand for."

Rather devoid of emotion. A much more successful approach is to start by highlighting recent election and/or program successes.

"Six months ago, your support of the Whig Party helped get Joe Smith elected. And already he's making a huge difference in the lives of all Americans. He helped write this and that. And he's sponsored a bill that will give every American the right to do such and such. All because of you and your support.

"And even though Ann Jones was not a candidate in your state, your support of the Whig Party helped her keep her seat in the Senate in the face of ruthless and unfair attacks by the Tories. Look at what she's accomplished with your help."

This type of approach then goes on to give several examples of the way the prospect's past support made specific differences – and to ask for support for several other SPECIFIC purposes. But the overall appeal ends up being for broader institutional support.

"We could not have done it without your support and the support of people just like you who want to see the Whig Party grow and prosper and make America safe for [whatever]. Help us now to continue our work. Help us [specific project 1] … [specific project 2] … [specific project 3]. Help us keep America great!"

This same, very successful approach can be adapted to almost any type of institutional appeal. By keeping the appeals specific, you generate the much-needed emotion that might otherwise be missing.

Bill ended his MCG interview with three secrets that you can learn from his years of fundraising experience: (1) Know who you're speaking to. (2) Personalize your appeal. (3) Use repetition.

Don't make a statement and believe that it's going to stand on its own. The key to convincing your prospect to make a donation is repetition and frequency. Find a way to repeat your appeal in the copy in new, exciting ways. Then you'll increase your chances of success.

[Don't miss part 1 of this article.]

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Published: August 16, 2004

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