Fundraising Scams Becoming More Prevalent

It seems like every day there’s a new story about scammers taking people’s money by pretending to be helping a charitable group or worthy cause. This morning I read a disturbing article about a new scam using the death of a California Highway Patrol officer to steal money.

It got me wondering just how big a negative effect these scams have on regular fundraisers by giving all fundraising appeals a black eye.

Next time you mail a donation request letter, better include proof of your nonprofit credentials on the envelope. Otherwise, you’ll make it no further than the wastebasket!

Appeal Letter Tips

The Art Of The Appeal Letter
What’s the best way to raise money? Face-to-face, of course. What’s the best way to raise money when you have 2,000 or 200,000 people on your mailing list and not enough volunteers to make all those visits? The solicitation letter.

Whether it’s called an appeal letter, an annual letter, a membership letter or a desperate cry for help, almost all organizations have to send solicitation letters.

What is an appeal letter?
Like the Supreme Court said about pornography, a good appeal letter is hard to define but you certainly know it when you see it. An appeal letter is not a business letter or an essay. It must communicate your mission and compel the reader to invest in that mission with a check.

And it has to accomplish all that in about 500 words. The average reader will only spend two seconds reading an appeal letter before deciding where to file it: on the desk or in the trash.

Writing a compelling and successful appeal letter is an art — but lots of organizations still seem to be writing in crayon. Here are some suggestions that can move your masterpiece from the refrigerator door to the gallery wall.

Letter Writing Tips

Segment your list and write to the segment
Current members, large donors, prospects, one-time visitors, students, museum professionals — these are all different segments and need different approaches in the appeal letter. Divide up your list and write letters that will be compelling to each type of donor or prospect.

Click here to read the rest of the article on appeal letter tips.

Eight Rules For Fundraising Letters

Eight Cardinal Rules For Donation Requests
When writing a donation request letter, there are eight cardinal rules to follow. Failure to follow these rules will weaken your message, lower your response rate, and substantially reduce donation size.

Here’s how to get the most out of your fundraising letter:

Rule 1 – Use “I” and “you” (but mostly “you”).
In fact, “you” should be the word you use most frequently in your fundraising letters. Your appeal is a letter from one individual to another individual. You aren’t writing a press release, a position paper or a brochure.

Rudolf Flesch’s studies on readability supply the fundamental reason the words “you” and “I” are important: they provide “human interest.” Stories, anecdotes and common names (and capitalized words in general) have some of the same effect — but the most powerful way to engage the reader is by appealing directly to him or her: use the word “you.”

For example, in one fundraising letter, see how the author uses these powerful personal pronouns to establish intimacy:

You are a dream catcher.

I peeked in on some of the younger kids who were already asleep.

You protect our children from nightmares. You save them from poverty, illiteracy and despair.

I hope you’ll keep this card to bring good dreams to yourself and your family.

A singular salutation should be used even if the letter is addressed to a married couple. (Only one person at a time reads a letter!) Abolish the plural “you” from your vocabulary (as in “Dear Friends,” for example).

Try to avoid the royal “we,” too; it smacks of condescension and will detract from the personal character of your appeal.

Use a singular salutation
Use of the singular will require that you stick to a single letter signer. You’ll cause yourself two problems by using more than one singer:

(a) You won’t be able to enliven your letter with the personal details and emotional asides that might come naturally in a letter from one person to another.

(b) With multiple signers, you’ll sacrifice “suspension of disbelief,” to wit: your reader’s willingness to accept that your letter is actually a personal, one-to-one appeal.

Think about it. How am I to believe that two or three busy people who don’t live together or work in the same office have collaborated in writing a fundraising letter to me?

Which one of them typed the letter? (Or was it really someone else?) Did they both actually sign it? These are not questions you want your readers to be asking!

When to break Rule Number 1:
You may write a letter in the first-person plural if – but only if – there’s a very special reason to do so. For example, if the letter is to be signed by a married couple or your organization’s two venerable co-founders or a famous Republican and a famous Democrat.

Even in such exceptional cases, however, I advise you to craft the letter as though it were written by only one of the two signers, in much the same manner as one of those annual family letters that arrive by the bushel every December. Something like this:
Howard and I had a terrific time at the yak farm, but the same can’t be said for the yaks. (Yep, you guessed it: the kids were up to their old tricks!)

Rule 2 – Appeal on the basis of benefits, not needs.
Donors give money because they get something in return (if only good feelings). To tap their generosity, describe what they’ll receive in return for their money – such benefits as better government or attention to important issues or larger causes served. (Remember: most donors read your letters in the privacy of their own homes. They don’t have to admit their own mixed motives to anyone – not eve themselves.)

When to break Rule Number 2:
If you’re sending a genuine emergency appeal, you’ be a fool not to write about your campaign needs – and graphically so! But if it isn’t a real emergency – and you’re really in trouble if you habitually cry wolf – then write about benefits, not needs. In the long run, you’ll raise a lot more money that way.

Rule 3 – Ask for money, not for “support.”
Almost always, the purpose of a fundraising letter is to ask for financial help Be sure you do so – clearly, explicitly and repeatedly. The “Ask” (pardon my jargon) shouldn’t be an afterthought, tacked onto the end of a letter: it’s you reason for writing.

Repeat the “Ask” several times in the body of the letter as well as on the reply device. It may even be appropriate to lead your letter with the Ask.

The Ask should appear at least twice in the letter and twice again on the reply device. The request for funds should be clear and explicit.

When to break Rule Number 3:
Many direct mail packages are structured not as appeals for funds but as invitations to join a membership organization. Others feature surveys or other donor involvement devices. In these cases, de-emphasize the financial commitment, and highlight membership benefits – or stress the impact of completing the survey or mailing the postcards you’ve enclosed.

Click here to read the rest of the eight rules for fundraising letters.

Appeal Letter

Tips On Writing a Letter Of Appeal
When writing an appeal letter, you have to play to your reader’s emotions. Your letter must rouse an emotional response with it’s first paragraph, not blandly recite boring facts.

Grab their interest by creating a villain, flatter their wisdom, use guilt to appeal to their conscience, or appeal to their social status with an air of exclusivity. A letter of appeal that fails to quickly stir up the reader’s emotions is destined for the wastebasket.

In fact, write each sentence of your letter with the knowledge that people read their mail within six feet of a trash can. Knowing that will imbue a sense of urgency in each paragraph that will make the reader continue on to the next paragraph and then the next and the next and so on.

What To Say
A fundraising appeal letter that speaks to their heart will get read. You want what you say to pack a powerful emotional punch. Anger and guilt are two very powerful triggers, so how do you use them in your appeal?

Simply write from your heart with passion about what makes you so angry that you’re trying to fix it. Sprinkle in a little personalized guilt about what happens to those that didn’t receive help because of a lack of funding.

Expose your reader to the dark side with a vivid portrait of the problem you’re attacking. Make it personal and make it come alive in their mind’s eye.

Click here to read the rest of the appeal letter article and view a sample fundraising letter.

Donation Letter Tips

Eight Tips For A Successful Donation Letter
The art of writing effective fundraising donation letters can be learned. I learned it and so can you. Here are eight tips for writing your own donation appeal.

Successful fund raising letters share a number of things in common. Once you know what these things are, your letter is already half-way written. Before I share what they are, let me explain what I mean by a “successful” fundraising letter.

I mean a letter that generates a gift, certainly, but I also mean a letter that builds upon the relationship you have with your supporters. You can easily craft a guilt-inducing letter that brings in a donation for now, but repels a donor forever.

Successful donation request letters take the long-term approach, knowing that donors need to be nurtured and educated over time. So here are eight things that all successful fundraising letters have in common. Include as many as possible in each letter you write.

Be personal
Effective fundraising letters sound as though they are written by a human being, not an institution. Unlike grant proposals or special events, they are person-to-person pieces of communication. With the exception of a phone call, fundraising letters are the closest thing that you can get to a face-to-face meeting with a donor.

Click here to read the rest of donation letter tips.