The starting point for all effective fundraising appeals is to appeal to the heart, rather than the head. This is true in both the copy and design of your donation request letter. For a donor, the decision to make a contribution to a non-profit is driven by emotion, rather than analysis and sheer logic. (Of the 14 reasons here, almost all have to do with the emotions)
People who support non-profits do so because they have a strong emotional reaction to the cause and the stories told by the non-profit. Although they do weigh their options and try to determine the impact of their donations, they find “facts and figures are [less] attractive than narratives.” Whether their motivation is supporting orphans in Africa, funding an organization that's developing a cure for a horrible disease, sponsoring a program that brings the message of the Gospel to people around the world, or advancing their own political philosophy, people want to know who they are helping, on an individual basis and in a personal way, and how their donation is helping real people.
When writing donation request letters, this is very important to keep in mind.
A donor request letter is not a time for syllogisms or logical exercises. It is a time to express to your donors (or potential donors) the plight of the people you serve, the chaos and pain that families dealing with sickness face on a day to day basis, or the grave danger a particular political agenda presents for their nation. “In a series of experiments, it was found that people are much more responsive to charitable pleas that feature a single, identifiable beneficiary, than they are to statistical information about the scale of the problem being faced.”
Take a woman who goes to Mass every Sunday, lights a candle from time to time for a prayer intention, and goes to Confession regularly. Obviously, she feels a connection to her Catholic Faith. But if she is going to contribute to a cause regarding Catholicism, it will be because of a personal connection she feels with that cause. (In 2015, the majority of charitable dollars went to religion)
As fundraisers, our job is to make a connection between this woman’s faith and a particular cause. The rationale is already there - people are sick or people are being persecuted and her Christian faith calls her to help those in need. And this woman is well aware of that calling. But when she gives, it will be because she feels a strong emotional reaction to what is described in that letter. As fundraisers, we simply need to find a way to connect this potential donor to the emotional aspect of the work that you do.
A Few Tips for Your Next Donation Request Letter
Your fundraising copy should not read like a report to your Board of Directors. Your copy should sound like a personal letter from a close friend. For example, it may be from someone who has gone to Haiti to help improve living conditions for the people still suffering the devastating effects of the earthquake that dismantled their lives 6 years ago.
Imagine your friend writing to you...In her letter, she describes her experience with the Haitian people. That letter presents 2 different perspectives: her own and the people she is helping (preferably one particular person she has connected with). Your friend shares her experiences travelling the country, how she feels each day – the excitement, the sadness, the conviction of doing this work. She shares with you the level of poverty her new friend faces: her hungry children, her family’s displacement, and her friend’s struggle day in and day out.
You want your appeal to leave a potential donor with that same feeling. In order to do that, you must keep these two perspectives in mind. Share your feelings of helplessness when you cannot provide the level of support needed for those struggling individuals you help. Share with your potential donor what would happen if your organization was not there to help these people. Share about the daily impact your organization has on those your serve.
Typically during the giving process, negative emotions play an essential role in someone who does give. Many people don't like this, but the importance of negative emotions can’t be discarded. To appeal to these kinds of emotions, you need to let your potential donor know what it feels like for a particular family who can't find work, or has a sick child, or faces persecution.
A person who's really good at writing a proposal for a grant is not necessarily going to write the kind of copy that you want to use in a Direct Mail appeal. That Direct Mail appeal should be strongly emotional in tone. Again, present the rationale for supporting your organization in a way designed to appeal to the emotions of the recipient.
This is true of your entire fundraising appeal. To be effective, especially in Direct Mail, you have to touch people's hearts. Think of your potential donors as your friends (they are), tell them a truthful and moving story about who you are and who you serve. Take your time in appealing to them, stir up their emotions, and allow their heart to lead the way.