How to Craft Winning Fundraising Appeals: 4 Top Strategies

Appeals are an essential part of every nonprofit’s fundraising strategy. They carry a lot of weight, putting your cause in front of current and potential donors and convincing them to give their money to you instead of someone else.

Let’s pretend for a moment that you aren’t a fundraiser. If you got a letter in the mail asking you to give to a specific cause, what would motivate you to give away your hard-earned money to that organization? Or what puts you off from donating? What is the tipping point that makes you choose one mission from hundreds of incredibly worthwhile causes?

It could potentially boil down to the appeal itself and its sense of urgency. Urgency is a powerful force, and could even be the deciding factor between someone donating to your cause rather than someone else’s. 

But what else can you do to craft the most effective appeal you can? In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to create a compelling message that will resonate with your audience and drive meaningful contributions. 


What Are Fundraising Appeals?

Let’s start by defining what an appeal is, and how it serves your organization. Fundraising appeals are the heart and soul of securing financial support for your cause. They act as powerful calls to action, informing potential donors about your mission, the impact of their contributions, and ultimately inspiring them to donate. 

These appeals can take many forms, from email campaigns and social media posts to direct mail letters and event presentations. By crafting compelling fundraising appeals and choosing the most effective channels to deliver them, you can significantly boost your organization’s reach and fundraising success.


Make Your Fundraising Appeals Count: Be Intentional

Before starting out, ask yourself the following questions to set an intention for why you’re writing to your audience:

    1. Are you trying to raise a certain amount of money to launch a new initiative? 
    2. Are you trying to get one-time donors to renew their gift or invite inactive donors to renew their support? 
    3. Are you reaching out to grow your sustainer program? 

Whatever it may be, it’s important to know what exactly you want to communicate. To be more intentional when crafting an appeal, consider the following:

    • Target the right people: Tailor your message to resonate with specific donor segments. Understand their interests and motivations for giving.
    • Segment your donor base: This allows you to personalize communication and highlight stories or achievements relevant to each group.
    • Clearly articulate your mission: Remind donors why your cause matters and how their contribution fits into the bigger picture.
    • Make the ask clear: Don’t be shy about requesting a donation. State the specific amount you need or propose different giving levels.
    • Offer multiple ways to give: Make it easy for people to support you. Provide options for online giving, recurring donations, or even volunteering opportunities.


Know Your Fundraising Audience

    1. Think about who this appeal will be sent to. It’s critical to define your audience before you start the writing process, because the content and appeal itself might be shaped around who will receive it. Segmenting your audience could be based on giving history to your organization, like amount or frequency, but can also be split by age, or interest in a certain program. 
    2. Then, think about how you can best engage those groups based on what defines them. If they gave last year, but not this year (also known as LYBUNTs), re-engagement will have to be the focus. Or, if they’re a younger demographic, they’ll probably respond best to a lower ask string. Top-level strategy is what usually resonates best with mid to higher-level level donors.
    3. To get the most out of your hard work with these appeals, think about which audiences to segment for specific messaging. For more information on how to use analytics and predictive modeling to create more nuanced segments, reach out

Maximize Donations By Choosing Your Fundraising Channels

How can you maximize your channels for the best results? If possible, never rely on just one for a fundraising campaign. 

Multi-channel campaigns have been shown to be the most effective in response and retention of donors. Having your message appear across multiple channels reinforces your campaign and keeps your organization top-of-mind for potential donors. While there are an array of channels you should consider for your campaign (social media, SMS, paid search), there are two main ones for your direct appeals:

  • Direct Mail remains an important and valuable fundraising tool because it provides a personal touch and a tangible experience for whoever receives it. It is not dead at all.  Rather, it is very often an important driver for donors to respond even if it means they make their gift online. It can also reach an audience that isn’t as tech-savvy or online, and stand out in a less crowded space than digital. 
  • Email is essential, as it’s cost-effective and has a wide-reach. A huge advantage is that its delivery is almost instant – which really helps with urgent appeals or time-sensitive campaigns. Its metrics are usually pretty easy to track, as is the ability to segment your audience.


With Fundraising Appeals, Content is King

Here’s where the real work begins. There’s a lot that goes into writing an appeal, but it’s nothing that you can’t handle! Use these tips to write an effective appeal:

1. Tell a Story

Storytelling is one of the most powerful allies of a fundraiser. By sharing the story of someone whose life has been transformed by your organization, you are showing real and true impact. 

Here are some quick tips to strengthen your nonprofit storytelling:

    • Focus on people: Put human faces to your cause. Feature real people impacted by your work – beneficiaries, volunteers, or even staff. Let their stories connect with your audience on an emotional level.
    • Show, don’t tell: Avoid simply stating facts and figures. Use vivid descriptions, quotes, and anecdotes to paint a picture of the problem and your solution.
    • Highlight transformation: Showcase the positive change your organization creates. Show how a life was improved, a challenge overcome, or a community empowered.
    • Keep it concise: Attention spans are short. Get to the heart of your story quickly and keep your message clear and focused.
    • Use multiple formats: Don’t limit yourself to text. Utilize photos, videos, infographics, or even podcasts to engage your audience in different ways.
    • End with a call to action: Tell your audience what you want them to do after hearing your story. Donate, volunteer, spread awareness – make it clear and compelling.
    • Be authentic: Let your passion for your mission shine through. Your genuine enthusiasm will resonate with your audience.
    • Share successes, but acknowledge challenges: Don’t be afraid to show the struggles alongside your victories. It demonstrates transparency and the ongoing need for support.


2. Answer the “Why”

Persuasive language and a strong call-to-action are vital to encourage immediate and meaningful support. 

    • Why now? 
    • Why your organization? 
    • Why will their donations make all the difference? 

Tie your donations directly to impact by adding in sentences about what exactly a donation could do. Could it provide five families with shelter for a week? Or give medications to shelter 20 shelter animals? 

Describing this cause and effect connection makes the gift even more tangible to the donor, and it can also encourage someone to give even more as they can clearly see the impact that their dollars will have.

3. Incorporate Personalization

    • Personalize the appeal by addressing donors by name and acknowledging their past support, if possible. The tone of your voice should sound like it’s coming from a friend. You want to humanize your organization as much as possible, and not have your donors feel as though they are just another drop in the bucket of yet another marketing effort. 
    • Write like how you might make a speech. Keep sentences short, and don’t use words that might be difficult to understand. You want your writing to be accessible to as many people as possible. 

4. Express Gratitude

The people who are taking the time to read your work and make a donation make all the difference in advancing your mission. Be sure to let them know how thankful you are for them and their potential contributions. 

Ways to express gratitude to donors and show them their generosity is valued include:

    1. Thank you notes: A handwritten note thanking the donor for their specific contribution goes a long way.
    2. Personalized emails: You can show gratitude electronically, mentioning their name and the impact of their gift.
    3. Phone calls: For larger donations, consider a personal phone call to express appreciation and answer any questions.
    4. Welcome packages: For new donors, create a package with information about your organization and a small gift.
    5. Social media shoutouts: Publicly thank donors on social media platforms, tagging them if appropriate.
    6. Video messages: Create a video thanking your donors and showcasing the impact of their contributions.


5. Don’t Forget to Consider Design

    • When it comes to the format, less is usually more. Sometimes a good rule to follow is designing your appeal with your grandmother in mind. Wherever possible, strategically use white space to make your words stand out on the page. 
    • Make sure to bold key points, and if you’re considering using images, make sure they directly tie back to the story you’re telling and don’t sidetrack the reader. Make sure the font is an appropriate size, and it’s easy to read. 


6. Stick to One Call to Action, and Be Direct

    • Don’t beat around the bush when asking your audience for something – you should be crystal clear about what you’re asking for. “Donate today”, “Give now”, “Take action now”, “Make your gift today” all get the point across pretty quickly.
    • Be straightforward, but with a friendly and conversational tone. 
    • Clearly state the fundraising goal (if there is one) and how the contributions will make a difference in accomplishing what you’re looking to do. 
    • Repeat your call to action a few times, as repetition builds urgency. 

Your call to action should:

    1. Make it easy to donate: Include clear instructions and links for online giving or provide options for mailing checks.
    2. Set a deadline: If your appeal is time-sensitive, create a sense of urgency with a specific deadline for donations.
    • Offer incentives (optional): Consider offering small thank-you gifts or exclusive content for donors who contribute.


Don’t Just Stop at the Appeal–Make Stewardship A Priority

Now, after you’ve convinced people to make a donation, then what? Well, you can’t raise money if there’s no way for your donors to make their gifts! Make sure to have your donation process be as simple as possible. Simplifying your donation page to be as clear as it can be is one of the best things you can do to boost your fundraising efforts. Most importantly, build a strong stewardship plan to thank your donors in many different ways so they feel their gift is making a difference and that they are valued. 

So there we have it. Crafting a well thought-out, engaging appeal can inspire donors, attract new supporters, and secure essential funding for your cause. By following these do’s and don’ts of appeal writing, you can help maximize your efforts and build deep relationships with your donors.

Ready to take your fundraising appeal to the next level? We’re experts in turning lukewarm appeals into impactful stories that drive donations. Book some time with us at Windmill Hill Consulting so our team can help.

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