In the nonprofit sector we are dealing with ever increasing competition for attention and donor dollars. Add to that that people’s attention spans are decreasing on digital platforms. And add to that that there seem to be endless ways we can market and fundraise for our non-profit, it’s clear that fundraising professionals have their work cut out for them when it comes to winning donors’ hearts and minds.
I see these challenges as a chance to flex my creative muscles, but I also know how frustrating they can be. Sometimes it seems that just when you have a strategy figured out, donor behavior shifts. This is very true on social platforms. With email fundraising, I find that there is more stability in strategies for time (or at least there has been in recent years as I write this in 2022).
In this article we’re going to explore how to structure a fundraising appeal to raise more money while winning over donors’ hearts and minds.
Start with a Well Constructed Argument
At the top part of a fundraising email (which I consider to be the first 150 to 200 words), you’ll want to start with a well constructed argument for giving. This includes 5-must have elements that weave together your case for support.
- Context or a problem: Get straight to the point in your appeal. Tell people what’s happening and what the problem is right away. This will give them a reason to keep reading.
- Stakes of the problem or urgency: Next, we want to establish why this problem is such a problem. What are the consequences of not addressing it? What’s at stake?
- Solution: This is a combination of the work your non-profit does plus the fundraising campaign. Why this combination? Well, we need donors to understand that we need money to run the program 🙂
- Ask: The call to action that invites donors to be a part of the solution through your fundraising campaign.
You can swipe this outline when you work on your next appeal. What I like about this approach is that 9 times out of 10, it creates a very natural flow into the ask. And if you’d like a more in-depth walk through of this approach to writing, be sure to read this article.
This approach also addresses an issue that I see in a lot of non-profit fundraising appeals, which is not a good enough or in-depth enough explanation of what's happening. I read so many appeals each year that barely skim to the surface and lack a theory of change for fundraising. This is a sure-fire way to build an uncompelling fundraising appeal.
Want to learn more about writing great fundraising emails? Here are two articles worth reading:
- 5 Tips for Writing Great Giving Tuesday Emails (or Any Emails Really)
- A Question Every Fundraising Email Should Answer
Weave in a Story-Based Argument into the Appeal
Now that we’ve constructed the first part of your appeal, we’re going to weave a story-based argument into the appeal. This is where we transition from a slightly more intellectual approach to an emotional one. It’s also how we show the problem and the solution in action through a story.
There are many benefits of storytelling for fundraising and I’d encourage you to read this article if you’d like to learn more. The gist is that we want to give donors a concrete example to see how they can make a difference through donating.
The story we’re going to tell in this part of the appeal isn’t going to be an essay. It’s likely going to be 100 to 250 words. Just enough information to convince the unconvinced who kept reading without going into the weeds.
When it comes to writing the story in the fundraising appeal, I lean on the story structure that I’ve taught for years.
- Call to Action
You might notice that the story structure loosely mimics the top part of the appeal structure we covered earlier in this post. The key is that it takes a different angle on the same messaging.
This is how we really bring messaging and stories so that they're working together and in concert and we're able to eventually win over donors’ hearts and minds.
Want to learn more about writing stories that raise money? Here are three articles worth reading:
- 5 Types of Stories for Non-Profit Fundraising
- Non-Profit Storytelling: What if There is No Conflict (a great read if you feel like your “problem” is too low stakes)
- How to Build a Story Arc for a Fundraising Campaign
An Example of a Fundraising Appeal that Wins Donors’ Hearts and Minds
Ready to see an example of an appeal I wrote that won over donors’ hearts and minds?
This appeal example is from Variety BC, a client of mine since 2020. This email was part of a week long fundraising campaign called Variety Week. During this campaign emails that I wrote brought in over $136,000 and this particular email featured below brought in over $19,000 on the first day of the campaign.
There you have it, an easy-to-follow approach to writing fundraising appeals that win over donors’ hearts and minds. To recap, you’ll:
Start with a well constructed argument that covers the problem, the stakes of the problem, a solution and an ask
Then weave in a story-based argument that gives donors a specific example of the problem and solution in action.