What Should You Say in Your Next Appeal?

By: Nadine Gabai-Botero, CFRE, President

May 6, 2020

On April 27th I hosted a fundraising messaging session as part of the Catalogue for Philanthropy Webinar series that covered elements to think through before launching your spring appeal. If you’d prefer to watch the webinar, click here.

Appeal: Go/No Go?

First things first: should you send an appeal? It’s important to think through your ask and the timing. Here are some elements to consider:

  • Do you have the bandwidth to draft and send an email appeal? COVID-19 has upended a lot and you need to determine if this is a priority.
  • Do you typically conduct a spring appeal? Have you budgeted revenue for it? If so, and you have the resources to execute your appeal, you should plan on it.
  • If you’re planning on including direct mail, do you have systems in place to process checks and acknowledgements? 

I cover the content of the appeal below, but when deciding whether or not to go forward, make sure you’ve got a compelling ask (this is always true, but especially now with so many competing solicitations!) and that you make it clear why funds are needed now.

Gratitude

Before sending out your appeal, call your major donors to see how they’re doing (without asking for support). That gesture alone will really have an impact, and it’ll be good to know these folks who care so much about your organization are doing ok!

As you draft the appeal, make sure your readers know you are grateful for them. Let them know how much their past support has meant to you and how grateful you would be for their help now: whether it’s via a donation, volunteering, or other, non-monetary ways of giving. 

Your Tone and Attitude Matters

Although this is an anxious time for everyone, it is important not to convey your stress in your appeal. Present a positive tone and demonstrate how you’re facing challenges and finding solutions. Avoid phrases such as “bail you out” or asking donors for “emergency funds” to help cover essential operations. Language that sounds too desperate isn’t going to compel your donors to give! 

In this example (which would be followed with specifics), we make it clear what’s needed, but don’t present it as a last ditch effort. “With your support, you can help us advocate on behalf of those who need it most, so that they can get through this challenging time.”

Connecting Covid to your Mission/Programs

Covid is impacting every organization right now. Your focus, in your appeal, is to describe how the pandemic is affecting the individuals you serve and how your nonprofit is responding. Share what you are able to do to help those in need during this time and how you are continuing -- and expanding -- your efforts. When writing your appeal consider:

  • Who is being affected and how?
  • What initiatives are you focusing on now to help alleviate their challenges?
  • Which programs/services will have the greatest impact? (most need, greatest number of people helped)
  • What is the risk of not funding this work? (students won’t be prepared, productions won’t be performed, environmental programs won’t mitigate critical issues).

Frame your Appeal with Targeted Language

Rather than simply writing about the work you’re doing, use language focused on your supporter’s impact: “You can help ensure the students we serve continue to receive vital lessons and supplementary tutoring without a gap in support.”

Make your appeal personal and help connect the dots for your readers by using the magic word, “you.” And, keep your readers engaged by providing ways for them to support your organization in other ways, aside from financial giving. This lets them know they are able to have an impact, even if they can’t donate at this time.

Your supporters want you to succeed, so let them know why your organization matters and the consequences if you aren’t able to do your work in the same manner: “While we had to cancel our spring performances, you can help ensure our educational outreach programs to K-5 students continue. With your help, we’ll be ready to re-open as soon as we get the green light.”

Social Media & Video

Social media creates great opportunities for connection and engagement. If you’re on social media, your appeals should always be included in your posts and updates. Social media is also a great way to jumpstart your appeal, and help you test messaging to see what works. And, definitely show your followers the impact your organization is having through pictures, quotes, videos, or anything visual. While social media may not garner immediate giving or big gifts, it helps reinforce your messages.

Fundraising During Covid

It’s extremely important to continue fundraising right now. During the Great Recession, nonprofits that kept up their development momentum, with targeted content, messaging, and yes, asks, did the best during that time and afterwards. Organizations that stopped connecting with donors or asking for their support, and didn’t invest in growing their support base, had a much harder time recovering.

 

Once your spring appeal is complete, analyze your data and compare it to past efforts to determine who responded, who didn’t, and which messages worked best. We are likely in this Covid era for a while, so figuring out effective messaging and what resonates with your donors and prospects is going to be crucial for fundraising success.