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donations are in the details: three important tips for first responders to increase contributions

There are so many organizations doing fundraising drives in the spring and fall months, and so many channels with information and requests for donations that it is more challenging than ever to create an appeal that stands out, conveys your message quickly and precisely, and fosters engagement.   Not to mention most first responder organizations are comprised of volunteers who have a limited amount of time to devote to copywriting.  Add COVID to the mix, and where to start with an appeal letter can leave you with a blank page.

We understand this dilemma – and how crucial it is to raise funds at this time of year and during the unusual climate we are still experiencing. As you prepare your next appeal, here are a few pointers that can help you better connect with donors and give your fundraising effort a boost.

When developing appeal copy, there are three key factors every organization needs to address – the power of your content, the importance of graphics, and the logistics of your donation request.  Careful development of these three elements can help improve your chances of success.

  • developing the content
    • remind donors of your value: Reiterate the ways in which you continue to serve the everyday needs of the community all year long. Be specific to events your neighbors are likely to be aware of.
    • talk about COVID-19: (yes, it’s still part of the conversation) and how you’re dealing with it, how you’re helping the community during it, and how your organization has been affected in terms of services or needed additional support. Everyone understands COVID is a part of our lives and communities and acknowledging it can help bring communities together. And remember, early statistics showed that while some individuals and companies cannot give at this time, most donors planned to increase or maintain donations during the pandemic.  They are still there for you!
    • tell a story: Featuring one event, going into detail about how your efforts saved or changed a life, provides insight, is relatable and goes deep to the heart.  A personal story will convey your message with much more impact than overviews and statistics.
    • speak in “real talk”: Use a tone that speaks “neighbor to neighbor”, leaving out jargon that individuals outside of your organization might not understand.
    • be realistic: Tell donors you understand that some may not have the resources to give or will have to donate less. Lead with empathy and assure them that no amount is too small.
    • thank people for their support: Have you received donations or funding from a government program? Acknowledge the financial support and thank people for their generosity.
    • close with a heartfelt “Thank You.”
  • adding the visuals
    • use pictures to highlight the content: Did you know that it takes between four and eight seconds to process a 25-word sentence, but milliseconds to process an image?  Pictures do speak louder than words and are what catches the readers eye first.  Consider them the headlines to the various parts of your appeal.
    • show your face: A group picture of the individuals in your organization reminds your donors that you are real people doing an important service and not an institution.
    • don’t forget the envelope: The first challenge is to get the donor to open the envelope.  A relevant graphic and tag line addressing your appeal needs goes a long way to inspire them to open and find out more.
  • organizing the donation request
    • consider a wider range in the ask string: Given the tough economic climate, you may need to expand your donation ask beyond something generic for all your donors. For example:
      • for past donors, use a personalized ask string in the donation suggestions that starts with their last donation and escalates from there, taking you to a higher-than-normal top end.
      • for prospects use a generic first-time donor ask string more like the “average” amounts you may typically include on the donor card.
    • leverage your donor card: Think of your donor card as valuable marketing real estate. Be sure to:
      • include a reminder of the impact the donation will have on your ability to continue to perform vital services, purchase equipment, provide training, etc.
      • ask for an email address and ask them to follow you on social media so that you can continue the conversation between formal appeals. This builds your brand – and yes, even as a nonprofit organization you have a brand.  It is critical that you crystalize and support that brand consistently (more on that in our next blog – stay tuned!).
    • offer reassurance: Donors need to be assured that your organization will continue to be there for them – with or without their donation. Let them know it is your privilege to serve.
    • did I mention, “Say Thank You?”: This is a great place to say it again.  Remember: when it comes to expressing gratitude for your community’s support, more is more!

While developing an appeal letter is always challenging, a well-developed appeal letter makes all the difference in getting the donations needed to achieve your financial goals.  We hope these tips are helpful to your organization in getting out your message and getting in needed donations.

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