On Tuesday I discussed why stories are necessary to modernize direct mail, and why we must evolve our direct mail practices. I also shared how using storytelling techniques has consistently yielded response rates over 18% on appeals I’ve written this year – one as high as 37%! Today I’m going to dissect the copy for you and give you some step-by-step tips to use when writing copy.
A bit of context: This appeal was for monthly donors who had not increased their gift amount in at last two years. Typically, the only communication they receive from the non-profit is quarterly newsletters and their year-end tax receipt. For the most part, they are an under-stewarded bunch. This appeal was a giant test as they had never received an upgrade ask via mail before.
This post will be longer than most as I am including excerpts from the letter.
Dear Mr. Sample,
A few months ago a gentleman came into the Cornerstone Drop-In Centre and asked an Outreach Worker to help him purchase a Greyhound bus ticket. He needed to go to the interior of BC – his childhood home – to be with his family, as his mother had just passed away. Living in the Downtown Eastside, he hadn’t seen his parents in over 15 years, but wanted to pay his respects.
He ended up staying for 2 weeks and reconnecting with his father, who is in his eighties. He came back to Vancouver a changed man. He has been clean an sober since his trip.
Recently he moved out of the Single Room Occupancy Hotel he was living in and into a basement suite in Surrey. He has a job lined up, which will pay him well, and he is receiving further guidance from Employment Counseling at UGM to make long term plans. Attending his mom’s funeral has brought him to a new place in life, and he continues to keep regular contact with his father.
This is just one example of the smaller, yet equally impactful ways lives are being changed each and every day at [ ]. And the reason why we have such great success stories is because of donors like you.
This was the first part of the letter. Notice, the letter transitioned right into a story after the salutation. This was a bit of risk as most letters and emails begin with a thank you. Using one of the golden rules of copy writing, I opted to go with something more enticing. The story also gives many small details about this man’s life, which were courtesy of a programs staff member who knew the man. These intimate details are not often ones that you’ll find in non-profit communications. But they paint a very real picture of the kinds of people the non-profit serves, which better connects the supporter to the impact of your work.
[ ] has had the immense pleasure of serving communities in Metro Vancouver for over 70 years. Although our facilities have changes over the years from the original Gastown location and the ministries have evolved, the heart of our work remains the same – [ ] brings hope to communities experiences homelessness, addiction and poverty.
You know this heart.
As a [monthly donor], you also have this heart for our communities. Your continued support is what has allowed [ ] to expand its programs and services this past year, helping to transform more lives than ever before. In 2011, 53 lives were restored through the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Program, 254,816 meals were served and 712 children attended summer camp. These numbers mark incredible milestones that you helped make possible!
Transitioning out of the story can tricky. Focus on relating the story back to the bigger scope of your non-profit’s work – this is the appropriate time to demonstrate vision and big accomplishments. But instead of just focusing on what the non-profit has accomplished, present it in a way that demonstrates partnership with the supporter. Show that you both have similar values and beliefs. By doing this, you are effectively priming the supporter to say yes. That brings us to making the ask.
With you loyal support, we’ve been able to help so many people in our community. Today with your renewed commitment, [ ] will be able to take great strides towards making tremendous change in Lower Mainland communities. I hope you will consider increasing your gift to $[ask amount] per month.
Your generosity means so much to those who rely on [ ] in times of great need. By providing meals and other vital programs, you can continue to bring hope an transformation to our neighbours!
A very simple, to-the-point ask, building on the points the letter has already covered. It’s important to have a through-line for case you are building leading up to the ask. My formula has always been to focus on a person, demonstrate vision for other people and then show how donations contribute to that vision and those people. This will likely require you to focus on specific aspects of your non-profit’s work, which is a good thing because the reader can only absorb so many facts you throw their way.
I would love to take your questions about this appeal, or even one that you are working! Please feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.