Get behind me, Satan! ⋆ Hands-On Fundraising

cartoon figure of a devil. Long eyelashes, pink shoes, white gloves.

Maybe you’re putting the finishing touches on your year-end appeal. Or maybe you’re already thinking about the next one. (Go you!) In either case, there are temptations – usually suggested by someone who doesn’t understand fundraising – that you will need to resist.

If you want the appeal to succeed, that is.

Temptation one: Keep it short to save money

It might be possible to write a really great one-page appeal. But I’ve never heard of one. And there’s a pretty huge body of experience to show that longer appeals do better.

All things being equal, two pages will do better than one. And four pages are better than two. Eight pages – yes, I said eight pages – will do better than four.

This is when someone will insist they’d never read an eight-page appeal. And when you get to explain to them that you don’t expect anyone to read the whole appeal.

(Pause here for their confused face.)

Almost no one reads every word of your appeal. You know that. And it’s ok because you also know that more real estate means more chances for you to catch their eye. And that a longer letter signals to your reader that they’re holding something important.

Write the appeal as long as it needs to be. Repeat your ask often. Give them a story to follow… a bit of suspense… a lot of emotion.

Temptation two: The kitchen sink

Now you know that adding some things to the package can boost your response. Premiums can work. (Yes, address labels work!)

But that doesn’t mean you just toss everything you can think of in the envelope like you’re packing to escape a nuclear meltdown.

Think of your appeal package as a whole. And keep it focused on your ask. Can you fold whatever someone wants to add into the package and the ask? Try it.

But if you’re thinking that more always means more… think some more.

What about messaging? I’ll bet you’ve been asked to add information or requests that have nothing to do with your appeal. An upcoming event, maybe.

Resist this temptation as well. Even with a long letter and a lift piece or two, you must keep your focus. Saving a few cents on postage to inform donors about something unconnected to your ask is not worth killing your response.

Temptation three: Your almighty brand standards

Your brand definitely matters. But sometimes, what is considered your brand is nothing more than a designer’s choice of colors, logo, and fonts. That’s not really your brand at all. Your brand is really how people feel about your organization.

And just because someone chose a cool modern font and colors to represent your organization doesn’t mean you should use them all for fundraising. That’s putting your organization’s sense of self before your donors’ interest in helping.

For print, a serif font, and a good point size, work best. It doesn’t matter if it looks sort of ugly to the brand police. They’re not your audience. Chances are your audience is older. Probably having some vision loss.

And what they can’t read, they won’t read.

Also, those old-fashioned fonts – like Courier! – remind people of typewritten letters. Back when things weren’t mass-produced. When that letter was intended for them, personally. That matters, too.

So tell the brand police to back off. You’re the fundraiser, so you’re in charge.

Temptation four: Happy talk!

So your organization does so much good work? And everything in the world is so dark right now? So why don’t we focus on the good news and make people happy?

Good news about that: you can make people happy. That’s what donor newsletters are for. Go to town. Give them all the credit. Share all the great news about what their gifts have made possible. Include all the happy photos, too.

But not in your appeal.

You are asking donors to solve a problem. If there’s no problem to solve, there’s no reason to give. It’s really that simple.

So avoid happy endings. Focus on the problem instead.

Sometimes, this temptation is about concern over how your organization is seen. You’d like to be the successful place taking names and kicking butts and making the whole world fair and equal and happy.

But you can’t be that if you don’t have donors. And you won’t be that if you’re focused on your organization instead of the donor. Practice shrinking the organization down until it’s just large enough to be a bridge between donors and the problem you solve. Let them cross that bridge and be the hero.

You don’t need pats on the back. You need support.

Temptation five: Skip the appeal

Ah… if only you could wish donor gifts right into your bank account, right? After all, sending out appeals costs money. Can’t we just send, like, a postcard or something?

Sure! But not if you need to raise money.

There aren’t many shortcuts in fundraising. (A great donor database system can be one!) You really have to do the work.

Fundraisers talk a lot about relationships. For many, if not most, of your donors, your fundraising mailings ARE the relationship. They’re how they know you need them. How they learn how they’ve helped. How they feel connected to your cause.

So yes, mailing throughout the year costs money. But not keeping up those relationships is so much more expensive! Fundraising requires investments to succeed. Don’t quit your donors like that.

There’s a reason so much fundraising has rules. They keep us on the straight and narrow – focused on donor relationships and inviting people to be part of your cause. Go and do good!