Ask a Pro:
Secrets of Writing Successful Fundraising Appeals, Part 1

In a recent issue of Monthly Copywriting Genius (MCG), Bill Wilson described a fundraising appeal that pulled a whopping 11% response – this in a marketing niche where 2% is considered outstanding.

Bill feels that his appeal was so successful because he was asking for money to support a specific project instead of simply trying to raise money. The appeal was also successful because he incorporated some important fundraising secrets.

In general, Bill says, it's easier to get a good response from a program-specific appeal as opposed to one that generally tries to raise money for the organization – something that is known as an institutional appeal.

An example of a program-specific appeal might be to ask for money to save the saber-tooth tiger or a campaign to raise money to elect Joe Smith to congress. An institutional appeal is one where you're asking for money to support the general operations of the Saber Tooth Tiger Federation or for money to support the Whig Party.

In a program-specific appeal, you use the success and strengths of the program (or the individual) to generate excitement about contributing. You can adopt a more personalized appeal when doing program-specific appeals like these.

In appealing to people who have given before, remind them of your existing relationship. Remind them of their past financial support. And give them credit for the success of the organization – for instance, how their past contributions have so far helped save the saber-tooth tiger. Whether those successes were yesterday, last year, or three years ago, you need to remind your reader that they were an integral part of that success.

And then resell them on the reasons why they joined your crusade in the first place. Remind them of their decision to help because of " … our work together in saving the saber-tooth tiger for future generations. You don't want to see all that good work go by the board. If you and I are going to continue to protect and preserve these majestic animals, we need your continuing support."

With potential new donors, you have to try to develop this same personal relationship, this commitment to a cause that you have already developed with existing donors. There are numerous ways of doing this, but one of the most effective is to develop a two-part picture. The first picture is one of how the world would be WITHOUT what you're trying to accomplish.

"Imagine, if you can, living in a world in which it would be impossible to see – anywhere – a saber-tooth tiger … poised to pounce … muscles rippling … teeth bared. Imagine how barren your life – and the lives of your children – would be without these regal animals."

Then you paint the opposite picture, a world the way your organization wants to see it, a world populated with saber-tooth tigers (as it could be with their support).

Program-specific fundraising appeals are very much impulse driven and impulse buys. If the prospect likes the project, becomes excited about what you're doing, they're much more likely to donate. So your job as a copywriter is to convey excitement through your letter.

Program-specific fundraising appeals are not much different from regular sales promotions. You have to understand your prospect's core complex – the promise and emotions to focus on. You have to develop a personal, one-on-one relationship so the prospect will trust you and "buy" your ideas.

And you have to present your prospects with a clear picture of how their action will fulfill a deep, inner need they have, a need they might not even be completely aware of.

Follow these guidelines – and follow the structure of a powerful, effective sales letter (promise, picture, proof, and push) – and you could be writing fundraising letters as successful as Bill Wilson's.

Next week, in Part 2, we'll delve into how to succeed in writing the more difficult institutional appeal. We will also give you some excellent tips for writing both types of appeals. Don't miss it!

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Published: August 9, 2004

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