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Writing a Fundraising Appeal? Do This First

Last summer, I was given a project to write a content piece. The wonderful nonprofit client usually provides a full-page creative brief. Essentially, the brief is the plan for the project.

This time, though, I didn't get any such plan. The client's attention was focused on another important project.

All I received was a single resource and an internal note that stated, "Julie will know what to do." 🙄

While I appreciate the confidence, having no plan is less than ideal. ((Sometimes I need a crystal ball. 🔮 You too?))

But this was not a big project like a year-end campaign —and the client was unavailable — so I moved ahead to meet the deadline.

You know where this is going, right? 😬

Yep! II turned in the draft a few days later and learned it wasn’t written through the lens they had wanted.

Had they communicated this to me in the creative brief, I would have known. But alas, they had to backtrack and tell me the angle they envisioned.

Don't cry for me Argentina, but I had to do unnecessary revising of the piece.

Frustrations like this are entirely avoidable.

For small projects, the wasted time isn't really something to cry over. You fix it. You learn a lesson. You move on.

But for larger projects — like an appeal pack or donor newsletter — failing to communicate can have severe ramifications for everyone involved, like missing print/mail deadlines and creating hard feelings between colleagues. 😠😢

As we move into the time of year when year-end appeals are on our minds, I'd like to help you get started.

It all begins with a plan... 

Planning Your Fundraising Appeal

There are heaps of reasons you need a written plan before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

Planning your appeal:

  • Sets the direction and priorities
  • Gets everyone on the same page
  • Saves time in the long run
  • Simplifies decision-making
  • Creates a clear, more cohesive appeal

Things to Consider When Developing Your Appeal Plan

Planning takes time and organization.  I'll help get you started with 15 elements to include in your fundraising appeal plan:

1. Project Overview 

List the components & channels of the appeal. E.g. 4-page direct mail letter, reply form, lift note, outer and reply envelopes, 5-email sequence, donation landing page, 10 Facebook & Instagram posts, thank-you message.

2. Goals of the Appeal

Specifically, what are you trying to achieve? E.g., Overall revenue, # monthly gifts, improve retention rate by x%, # upgraded donors, # new donors.

3. Prior Results

List prior results of a similar appeal to have a frame of reference.

4. Deadline Dates & Responsibilities

List who will do what and when? E.g., writing, interviewing, designing, providing images, reviewing, approving, printing, mailing.

5. Audience

Describe a member of your typical audience. What is their background (demographics and psychographics)? Also, how familiar is the audience with your cause and work?

6. Segmenting

What segments will you use, and how will you vary them and add personalization for each? E.g. monthly donors, majors, LYBUNT, SYBUNT, interests, annual, prospects. Personalize salutation, vary paras, etc., etc.

7. Style Guide

Do you have a writing and design guide to provide to those involved in creating and reviewing the appeal? If not, be sure to communicate any desired style, voice, tone, and formatting.

8. Define the Problem

What is the human-size problem that the donor can solve with a gift?

9. What Makes the Problem Urgent

Why should the donor give now? E.g. matching gift offer, program launch, year-end.

10. Define the Offer

What will happen when a donor gives a gift? Your offer should be specific, show impact, be expressed with a cost, and is a good value.

11. What the Donor’s Gift Makes Possible 

Think "big picture" now. What is the good that unleashes into the community/world when your donor makes a gift? Likewise, what are the negative consequences of not raising the funds?

12. Describe the Story of Need

What is the basic story you will tell? Do you already have a story written somewhere or do you need to arrange to obtain one? How?

13. Benefits to the Donor for Giving

List any benefits —real or intangible—the donor receives for giving, including any lift notes. E.g. address labels, membership card, bounce-back piece.

14. Resources

List (and link to) the resources the team needs to complete the appeal.

15. Other Considerations

What else is required (that may be unique to your organization) to complete this project?

With a good plan in place, you'll know you are doing everything you can to begin a successful fundraising campaign. 


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



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