There are a lot of elements that make a fundraising appeal work. From a great story to a compelling ask, each of these elements work together to build the case for support that results in donations. While the elements of a fundraising appeal matter, what forms their foundation is the messaging. Every decision you make about elements of your fundraising appeal will come back to what message (or messages) you are trying to communicate. That’s why compelling key messages for fundraising appeals are so important.
In this article, you’ll learn what key messages are, the basics of compelling key messages for fundraising appeals, and how to use your key messages.
What is a Key Message?
We’ll start with the basics of what is a key message. I consider a key message to be an idea that you want to highlight continuously throughout a campaign. Most fundraising campaigns I work on have 1 to 5 key messages. Keep your messages simple, focused and targeted to your audience.
I often get asked if key messages should be used word for word in a campaign. Looking back at appeals I’ve written in the last year, I’d say I’m about 50/50 on this. If the message works well with what I’ve written, then I’m not going to re-invent the wheel. If I’m not using the message verbatim, then I’m writing copy that still evokes the central idea of the messaging. Above all, key messages are most beneficial for internal use to ensure that your organization is consistently on message.
If you want a deeper dive into messaging basics, this article from Nancy Schwartz is a gold.
I’ve also answered a few FAQs on messaging in this Network for Good blog post.
Basics of Compelling Key Messages for Fundraising Appeals
There are differences between fundraising key messages and other types of key messages your non-profit may have. But the one similarity across all kinds of messaging is that they need to be relevant to and reflect your audience. I cannot stress enough that the success of messaging is tied to your audiences’ needs, wants, values and preferences. The more you know your audience, the more you’ll be able to craft compelling key messages for fundraising.
Don’t know much about your audience? What refresh what you do know about them? Here is my guide on how to do audience research.
Now, let’s talk about some of the important qualities that are unique to fundraising messaging.
- Fundraising messaging establishes a problem
- Fundraising messaging establishes urgency
- Fundraising messaging presents a solution
In my experiences, most non-profits are good at the presenting a solution message (i.e. donate to the campaign). From talking with many of my Master Class students, where they run into problems is establishing urgency.
I’m going to start by saying something about urgency that I always hope never needs to be said but is truly important. The urgency you create in a fundraising appeal must be genuine and true. It is never okay or ethical to embellish the urgency to manipulate people to donate.
When I develop messaging on urgency, the key question I want the message to answer is, why does donating today matter? Realistically a donor could give any day of the year, so my task is to give them a true, compelling reason for donating today. Here are a few ways that you can create this kind of urgency.
- A deadline (example: December 31 for tax receipts or a time-bound campaign with a goal)
- Demand for services/programs (example: waitlist, increase in inquires)
- Trends that your non-profit must be prepared for (example: changes in seasonal demand)
- An event happening in the news cycle that directly ties into your work (example: pandemic)
A time-limited opportunity (example: matching gift during a campaign, though there is increasing skepticism and controversy around matching gifts)
Here are a few examples of key messages I’ve written in the last year that capture the kind of urgency necessary for fundraising.
- Without an autism assessment resulting in a diagnosis, families with children under the age of 6 are unable to access the $22,000 of government funding to support therapies. And right now, families are waiting an average of 2 to 3 years for a publicly funded autism assessment. This week we have the opportunity to significantly reduce this wait time.
- For the first time in our 54-year history, we have been overwhelmed with requests for support and cannot keep up with the demand. The COVID-19 health crisis has made it harder for families with special needs kids to access the support systems they rely on so now they are turning to [org] for help.
- Since we announced this new program, we’ve received hundreds of applications from families reaching out for this helping hand. And unfortunately, there’s been more families than we can currently fund.
I hope seeing a few examples of urgency messages for fundraising helps you see what they look like in action. I promise that crafting these is not as complicated as you think. It really comes down to finding your hook.
How to Use Your Fundraising Key Messages
As with all things in fundraising and communications, what you create is only as useful as you make it. I’ve certainly put in the time and effort into stories, messaging, and other content only to have them collect digital dust on my computer. That’s why I now have a way of using my key messaging at various points in the fundraising appeal process.
I start by building my key messaging into the creative brief . I’ve harped on the value of creative briefs a lot over the years. If you’re part of a time and you find yourselves constantly re-evaluating decisions or getting way off track, you need to use creative briefs. Once something is in the brief and approved, I consider it a decision set in stone.
Next, when I sit down the write the fundraising appeal, I build an outline of the appeal that creates an argument for the key message. Usually this looks like writing down some additional bullet points that will help me get the key message across. I think about these as beads that, when strung together, from the necklace that is my key message.
Finally, when I edit an appeal of my first questions always is, is this copy on message? If it’s not, then I have a fundamental problem with my draft that will require a big rewrite. If the copy is on message, I then ask, what else could I say or what could I say differently that will strengthen the message? This question helps me in the all-important refining process.
If you’ve made it to the bottom of this article, I hope you have some fresh perspective and direction on your messaging. Key messages for fundraising really are so important. I know that when you put the time, energy and effort into it, you’ll take your fundraising appeals to the next level.