How To Write an Opening Line for Your Fundraising Appeal
Beginnings are so memorable.
You can probably remember a bunch of "firsts" clearly. Your first crush. Your first apartment. Your first day at a new job.
I'll never forget the first time I met each of my four children. The picture below is the first family photo taken after my husband and I adopted two children from Ethiopia in 2006. Memories from those moments are etched in my brain (and heart💗).
((Of course, don't ask me to tell you what happened 2, 3, 4, or 10 years from that date. It's a blur!))
* * *
Studies have shown that when given a list of words, most people remember the very beginning and the very end the best. The middle items? Recalling those are much more difficult.
Psychologists call these cognitive biases the serial-position effect (Perhaps more commonly referred to as the primacy and recency effects.)
Here's a graph of one study's findings. Again, beginnings and endings just stick with us more than anything in the middle.
Beginnings in Fundraising Communications
Beginnings embed themselves in our memories and stir emotion. This is why a good start in a fundraising appeal can help elevate your message to your donors.
Your opening line needs to have what copywriter David Garfinkel calls “grab-ability.” You need to be able to capture the attention of your reader.
But you also need to maintain their interest throughout. Ideally, you want your appeal "grabby" from start to finish. 🤗
To help stir your creativity, I've assembled a list below. These are 10 ways you can lead your donor (by the heart) into your letter's main message.
This is by no means an exhaustive list; just some ways to help awaken your creative muse.
I've paired each with real-world opening lines from fundraising appeals that have landed in my mailbox. I hope you find them helpful!
Opening Lines to Give You Inspiration for Your Next Appeal
1. Ask a Question That Grabs Hearts
Opening Lines from Food for the Poor:
2. Introduce a Story with a Startling Reality
Opening Lines from ASPCA:
… alone in an apartment.
… without food or water nearby.
… his body in survival mode.
3. Show the Urgency to Act Now
Opening Lines from Save the Children:
4. Convey the Power of One Donor
Opening Lines from Orbis:
5. Connect the Pandemic to Your Cause
Opening Lines from Feeding America:
6. Show Impact & Appreciation for Previous Support
Opening Lines from Vida Joven de Mexico:
7. Get Right to the Point
Opening Lines from Susan G Komen:
8. From POV of Former Beneficiary
Opening Lines from International Rescue Committee:
9. Show It's About the Donor
Opening Lines from The Anti-Cruelty Society:
The reason is quite simple: friends like you.
10. Use Repetition to Evoke Emotion
Lines from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital:
[Free Download] Letter-Starters
A Freebie You Might Like 👉 I've just created a new cheat sheet that you can grab here: 99 Powerful Opening Lines for Your Fundraising Appeals.
A Year-End Appeal Conundrum From a Newsletter Subscriber...
Emma's not alone. You've probably run into this predicament too.
Your projects and programs don't change every single time you write an appeal, right? But you—or your boss—want a new way of asking donors for something you've already asked them for.
I'll get right to the point:
Starting from scratch may not be the best use of your time — and your efforts may not produce better results.
So here's a question to ask yourself before thinking about changing your fundraising messaging:
How successful was your last appeal for the same project?
If your answer is "Not great, Bob!" then yes, you need to examine what might have gone wrong and adjust your appeal. Start with your fundraising offer.
The fundraising offer is the main thing that will happen when the donor makes a gift. So, besides engaging the right audience (make sure you're doing that!), your fundraising offer is the main driver of your appeal's success.
Because when you have a compelling offer, your appeal can succeed even if everything else about your appeal letter isn't stellar.
Let's look at the essence of a good fundraising offer.
A good offer is focused, is urgent, shows the impact, and is best when expressed with a cost.
Here are some examples of offers:
- $17 will feed a homeless senior dog for a month.
- $50 will bring the cure for cancer one step closer.
- Your gift supports the students’ spring musical.
- Every $1 you give provides $9 worth of food and essentials.
You can learn more about offers from this free ebook from The Better Fundraising Company. It's fantastic!
What if your last appeal for the same project reached or exceeded your fundraising goals? How do you "freshen up" the messaging?
If you're happy with the outcome of your last appeal for the same project, celebrate! Congratulations on its success! 🎉
Be careful about how you change your messaging on a money-raising appeal. You don't want to change the appeal just for the sake of change.
One of the main reasons behind the desire to alter the messaging is that you don't want your donors to get bored or annoyed by the same "ask." Right?
But here's the thing:
Donors aren't paying as close attention to your fundraising as you are. You are in the thick of it, day in and day out. Donors are not.
Oddly, if you start to get bored with your fundraising messaging, chances are good that your donors are just beginning to "receive" the message.
So, again, be careful about reinventing the wheel when it rolls perfectly fine.
That said, there certainly are ways to make sure your message is as strong as it can be.
Here are three tips.
Three Tips to Strengthen Your Fundraising Message
Keep It Simple
In the book Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath talk about being a master of exclusion. Don’t introduce multiple themes, people, places, and so on.
That doesn’t mean dumbing things down. It does mean, however, finding the core of the idea. To get to the core, we've got to weed out the extraneous elements and remove important ideas that aren't the most important ones.
Donors give based on emotion. Then they back it up with logic. This may sound overly dramatic, but you want to take their breath away so that they can feel the impact of their forthcoming gift.
Do you remember when the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was damaged by fire a few years ago? In 48 hours, nearly $1 billion was pledged to restore the cathedral.
No case study, no detailed Excel spreadsheets, no pie charts, no strategy. Just people who had a deep emotional connection to the cathedral feeling devastated and wanting to help.
To get people to act immediately, they need to know why your message is so urgent. Why should they give now and not 6 weeks from now?
Some ideas to create urgency:
- Use a real or artificial deadline
- Have a match offer
- Explain the consequences of not giving now
Use words such as now, today, hurry, don't wait, ending soon, don't delay, final chance, deadline. ⏳
While you're here...
Why not read a little more?
Here are a few blog posts you might like:
1. Do Your Fundraising Stories Give Away the Ending?
2. The 1 Forrest Gump Fundraising Secret You Need
3. How To Balance Doom & Gloom with Happy & Hopeful in Your Fundraising Appeal
4. 7 Boring Ways to Transform Your Fundraising
Fundraising Writing Newsletter
Every two weeks I send a letter about fundraising, writing, donors, and life to smart fundraisers like you.
I share fresh, practical donor communication tips and resources... and some silliness too.
It’s free. Unsubscribe whenever you want.
I love receiving letters. If you do too, subscribe today.