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4 Tips for Creating More Effective Fundraising Appeals

Put yourself in your major donors’ shoes for a minute. You receive dozens of messages daily, all vying for your attention. What type of appeal would catch your eye, stop you in your tracks, and convince you to donate to a nonprofit organization?

Of course, the message would have to be well-designed and professionally formatted. But the key to an effective fundraising appeal doesn’t just lie in the aesthetics—it relies on your ability to reach donors on a personal level, build genuine relationships with them, and appeal to their motivations. 

Consider your organization’s fundraising strategies—are you doing all you can to reach donors effectively and push your fundraising efforts to the next level? If there’s room for improvement, here are a few tips to create better fundraising appeals: 

  1. Understand what your donors want.
  2. Share a compelling story. 
  3. Offer multiple ways to get involved.
  4. Use your data to make the right ask.

If you’re crafting your nonprofit’s strategic plan for next year, an enhanced fundraising outreach approach can help you hit the ground running with a dedicated, meticulous plan for wowing and connecting with donors. Let’s dive in! 


1. Understand what your donors want.

Major donors require an intentional stewardship approach because you have to convince them to contribute their major donations to your organization instead of sending the funds elsewhere.

These donors give to your organization because they feel a sense of personal connection to your cause or mission. Many are also interested in what they’ll receive from this partnership. By understanding what motivates your major donors, you can create messages that appeal to their interests and preferences. 

Two fundraising tools will help you understand your donors on a deeper level: 

  • Donor Profiles: Create personas for different segments of donors. For instance, you might craft personas for individual major donors, corporate sponsors, or planned givers. Think critically about the characteristics, passions, and motivations of each group. 
  • Donor Data: Review analytics from past campaigns, such as your previous annual giving campaign. Assess which messages or outreach strategies saw the greatest engagement from existing or prospective donors. 

Combine the information gathered from these sources to determine what your current and prospective major donors want to receive from their involvement with your organization. 

For instance, your corporate sponsors probably want more publicity for their businesses and a boost to their philanthropic reputations. Your individual donors may want recognition for their efforts in the form of a public thank-you message or naming a building after them. 

Ensure your outreach messages highlight the desires and motivations of each donor segment. Tell your corporate donors about your plans for highlighting their businesses at your annual gala, or your individual donors about the different perks available at each giving tier. This can help your organization’s outreach messages stand out and appeal to donors’ preferences. 


2. Share a compelling story.

Whether you’re sending an email, postcard or letter, or creating a presentation for your prospective donors, you’ll need to provide a persuasive reason for why they should contribute to your nonprofit. Share a compelling story that encapsulates the purpose of your fundraising efforts and how they support your organization’s mission. 

Getting Attention’s nonprofit storytelling guide summarizes the elements of an effective nonprofit story. Your story should include:

  • A central character: This individual could be a staff member, volunteer, or community member served by your nonprofit. For instance, perhaps your organization works with high school students in a mentoring program; focus on a student involved in the program. 
  • A driving conflict: Your story needs a hook to capture readers’ attention and create an emotional connection. The central conflict of your story is the issue or problem that your main character faces. For example, perhaps your student required help filling out important college and financial aid paperwork. 
  • A proposed solution: Don’t just tell supporters what the problem is—offer a realistic, achievable solution to combat the issue or solve the problem. Align this solution with your fundraising efforts. You might say that with donors’ generous support, your organization can expand its mentor program to help more students connect with a role model and achieve their goals. 
  • Supporting data: Back up your story with hard facts. These add credibility to your argument and foster trust among supporters. Include statistics, such as how many students you’ve helped with your program, the increase in students’ test scores after participation in your program, or your program’s college acceptance rate. 

Your story has the potential to reach donors on a personal level and create an emotional bond, but only if it’s well-crafted. This can create a longer-lasting relationship, leading to long-term support for your cause. 


3. Offer multiple ways to get involved. 

To convince prospective donors that your nonprofit is worthy of their support, show them that your organization is thriving and involved in a variety of programs and projects. 

For instance, perhaps your organization is focused on increasing the number of trees in an urban area. Highlight your organization’s volunteer opportunities, community educational programs, and youth gardening programs. 

Take this a step further by not only describing your various initiatives but inviting prospective and current donors to get more involved with these activities. This can help strengthen the bond between your organization and its supporters. They’ll feel a stronger emotional connection when they have the opportunity to work with your mission in a hands-on capacity. 

Invite supporters to get involved with your organization’s: 

  • Volunteer program: Volunteering allows supporters to see how your mission works first-hand. You can give your volunteer recruitment efforts a boost by offering donors a great experience and encouraging them to volunteer again in the future. 
  • Advocacy opportunities: Similarly, participating in advocacy gives supporters a deeper understanding of the societal issues your organization faces. 
  • Feedback gathering efforts: If supporters don’t have a ton of additional free time to volunteer or advocate, ask if they would take just a couple of minutes to fill out a feedback form. This can help your organization gain direct feedback on your outreach or fundraising efforts to determine your most and least effective strategies. 

These ideas don’t just show your donors the wide array of projects and initiatives your organization has to offer. They also show them that you value them for more than just their monetary contributions. This can contribute to greater donor satisfaction and retention down the line. 


4. Use your data to make the right ask. 

The bottom line of your fundraising appeal is the actual donation request itself. However, coming up with the right fundraising request for each prospective donor can be challenging. You have to balance your donors’ capacity for giving with their likelihood to contribute to your nonprofit based on the strength of your relationship with them. 

So, how can you craft a donation request that engages the right people in the right way? Bring your donor data into play again!

Review data such as:

  • Wealth indicators. Wealth data can reveal an individual’s giving capacity. Review data such as your prospective donors’ stock holdings, real estate ownership, job titles, and other publicly-available financial information. 
  • Existing donors’ past contributions. If you’re reaching out to an existing donor to request a larger amount, review the donor’s giving history. Make sure you request a giving amount that isn’t so high that you turn them away, but not so low that you’re leaving money on the table. 
  • Information from other reports indicating affinity. Nonprofit annual reports can reveal whether a prospective donor has contributed (and how much) to similar organizations or missions in the past. Knowing if someone has an interest or affinity for your work is a critical step in constructing an effective ask.

The process of gathering and assessing insights from this prospect data can be quite complex. Consider working with a nonprofit consultant to help parse through this information for actionable insights. 

According to Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s fundraising consultants guide, these specialists can review your prospective and current donor data to help you understand why supporters give and how you can use these insights to communicate with them more effectively. 

Whether you conduct your prospect research in-house or with a consultant’s help, this information can help you craft a donation request that’s most appropriate for each supporter. 

A fundraising appeal isn’t just a request for donations. It’s an important step in the donor stewardship process that should only be sent after you’ve launched a series of communications to get to know your donors better and introduce them to your nonprofit. 

To continue developing strong relationships with donors, follow up after you send your fundraising appeal with a thank you letter. Even if your prospects decided not to give, thank them for their time and consideration. This can ensure you don’t burn any bridges if these individuals feel motivated to give in the future.

With this dedicated approach to donor stewardship and fundraising outreach, you should be able to build genuine, long-lasting donor relationships that provide your organization with ongoing support. 

This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.

About the Author

Aly Sterling's decision to start her own consulting business in 2007 was driven by her belief in leadership as the single most important factor in organizational success, and her determination to work with multiple causes at one time to scale societal change. Today Aly manages the direction and growth of her firm while advising clients on the organizational challenges that affect their sustainability and mission success. Most recently, she partnered with a legal aid foundation in Los Angeles to lead their first-ever capital campaign for a new building headquarters, and currently serves as fundraising counsel to a prominent healthcare system managing multiple regional and national campaigns raising more than $85 million. In 2015, Aly led her firm to membership in The Giving Institute, an exclusive and highly respected professional organization for nonprofit consultants. The Giving Institute is best known for publishing the annual Giving USA report. Aly’s expertise includes fundraising, strategic planning, search consultation and board leadership development for the well-positioned nonprofit. She is regularly sought for comment by trade and mainstream media, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy and U.S. News & World Report. She has contributed to publications of BoardSource and The Governance Institute, as well as the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and The Giving Institute. Her workshops and keynote presentations have been featured at the meetings of the National School Foundation Association, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and a variety of foundations around the country. Today, Aly serves on the board of trustees for St. Ursula Academy and the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, as well as the advisory board for the University of Toledo Family Business Center. Aly is past president of the Northwest Ohio chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and has served on the boards of Leadership Toledo, David’s House and Advocating Opportunity, an organization formed to stop human trafficking.

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