02 Apr 5 Editing Fixes That Will Make Your Spring Appeal Letter More Effective
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
Earlier this year, I posted the results from my annual survey of conservation organizations and their 5-Year Value of Membership. At that point in time, I had data from twenty different organizations, and the median value was $1,100. This means that half the organizations reporting had median values higher than $1,100 and half had lower. (I have since added data from several others and the median is slightly higher.)
So, was there a common thread with the organizations that had high 5-Year Values? It turns out that there was – they were each engaged in raising money for specific projects. Raising money to protect, conserve, restore, or even steward a specific place:
- Brought in new donors,
- Encouraged donors who were lapsing to renew their support,
- Increased the amount current donors were giving, and
- Generally raised the enthusiasm for supporting the organization.
It’s not entirely surprising, but it’s notable.
I was thinking that I’m past due for a post on Spring appeals, and I was thinking about how my instinct was always to use the Spring appeal to raise money for a specific project. To connect the general membership more substantially to a mission-project. To ask for something more than just throwing a few more bucks into the kitty.
Maybe I have tripped over an empirical justification.
Regardless, of your subject matter, good writing comes from good editing. Today’s post is about five editing tips that will make your writing more effective for fundraising. Notice that I say “more effective.” Not more pleasing. Not more creative. Not more logical. More effective. Meaning it will help you raise more money.
Replace the word “need” with the word “opportunity”
This is as much editing for tone as it is for the specific words. Avoid asking because you “need.” Offer the reader an “opportunity” to give, instead. An opportunity to protect, conserve, restore, or steward. An opportunity to make a difference.
Highlight your use of the pronouns “we,” “us,” and “our”
Literally – print out the draft letter and use a highlighter to mark every use of these pronouns. Notice the frequency – the weight – of their use. And then go back through, and in each case, ask yourself whether the pronoun explicitly includes the reader. If not, change the sentence to either eliminate the pronoun or rewrite it so that it does.
We can protect the rural character of the landscape we all love.
By acting quickly, we have an opportunity to save this land for future generations.
(Ambiguous, but OK.)
Your gift today will help us save this land for future generations.
(Does not include the reader – consider simply removing the word “us.”)
Circle each number
Effective fundraising letters appeal to the heart rather than to the intellect. Numbers get in the way. I recommend simply taking them out. All of them. Consider that only a tiny percentage of your readers know how big an acre is. So, forty acres – or worse, 27.6 acres – is doubly meaningless!
If you absolutely must use a number, make sure to present it in relation to another number. For example, perhaps you found three of something this year where there was only one last year. But most of the time, metrics are not helpful in fundraising letters.
Use the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level test
Few people will actually read your letter. Most will scan it if they spend any time with it at all. Smart people scan 6th grade reading material very quickly, and consequently, effective fundraising letters are written at a 6th grade level.
The good news is that the reading level is easy to test. In Microsoft Word, run the spell check. At completion, you’ll get a pop-up box with “readability statistics.” Toward the bottom is the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level score. Most college-educated writers will naturally write at an 11th-14th grade level. For effective fundraising letters, you will need to break up compound sentences and simplify word choices. (It gets easier with practice!)
Ask for money
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Nonetheless, I still receive waaaaay too many letters every year that never really ask for money. They ask for “support.” Some ask for renewal. And some don’t really even ask for anything.
Ask for money. Ask for money!
Please consider a gift of $100 today to help protect this special place. You’ll be glad you did.
Are you raising money for a specific project this year? I’d love to hear about your experience.
Cheers, and Have a Great Week!
Photo by Free Nature Stock courtesy of Stocksnap.io.
Karen FerrierePosted at 13:27h, 03 April
Yes, that makes a lot of sense. Thank you!
Karen FerrierePosted at 13:03h, 03 April
When it comes to land conservation, we often talk about a certain numbers of acres of preserved land in relation to the amount at risk. Any suggestions on a way to do this that would be more meaningful to donors, specifically in appeal letters? Thanks.
David AllenPosted at 13:23h, 03 April
Karen, thank you for the question! I do have a suggestion, but you may not like it. The suggestion is to not use that idea in a fundraising appeal letter. It is much more powerful emotionally to paint a picture of ONE place that is vulnerable and could be lost (emotional idea) than it is to try to describe the magnitude of the problem (intellectual idea). Plus – donors who might feel like their small contribution won’t make a difference on a huge problem might feel that they CAN make a difference in a single place. Right now, a land trust in Oregon has an opportunity to protect a large part of an iconic lateral moraine that is vulnerable to development. Imagining that ridgeline dotted with vacation home development is much more motivating to potential donors than trying to quantify how much land is left unprotected in the County or in that part of the state. -da
Carol AbrahamzonPosted at 08:52h, 02 April
An aha moment! The project can be work you are going to do anyway to help cover staff time. Especially land management work. Rather then talk generally about something, pinpoint the actual land and management work and tell that story. You will still have the “gen ops” salary money available for the work.
David AllenPosted at 16:01h, 02 April
Absolutely! Land conservation project fundraising need is not limited to acquisition costs alone. The need includes closing costs (which often include staff time), first day and first year stewardship costs (which often include staff time), and stewardship endowment. The Spring appeal money could be applied to some or all of these costs. And your membership can be given an authentic opportunity to play an important role in conserving the property in the process.
Thanks for commenting!