Countdown To The Money, Week 9: Your Appeal

Once upon a time, something that someone else considered important happened. It had nothing, in particular, to do with you. But it was written by a skilled copywriter, so of the equivalent of 174 newspaper's worth of information you were bombarded with today, you noticed it.

This is a story you will not act on.

Once upon a time, something that had a lot to do with the kind of person you are happened. It confirmed your values and reminded you about things that are important to you. It called for you to take action in a way you could hardly refuse, given that it was so clearly a part of your world.

This is a story you will act on.

We are nine weeks away from the most lucrative week and day of the year: The last week of December and December 31st. Your end-of-year campaign can make or break your organization this year. It can also determine your level of success in 2023.

Knowing your end-of-year campaign, you should begin to craft your all-important appeal. How you make this appeal is of supreme importance.

The sad truth is most end-of-year fundraising appeals will be ignored.

Why? Like no one in any other time in history, your donors live in an accelerated age of information. That means that every day of their lives, they are bombarded with the equivalent of hundreds of newspapers worth of information (that estimate was nine years ago, read more here). TO KEEP THEIR SANITY, YOUR DONORS HAVE TUNED OUT.

The pandemic also upended everything, transforming how we eat, work and entertain ourselves. We now live in an accelerated digital world of information.

Fundraisers cannot write long and tedious appeals irrelevant to donors and expect to be heard today.

Here are some pointers that will help you make your written and digital appeals and not be ignored.

1. Your printed and digital appeals must communicate quickly.

Understanding the need to communicate quickly will catapult you into the top 1% of fundraisers today. Your donors live every day with sensory overload. Their brains have learned to tune out everything that does not concern them or is necessary for their survival.

Here is a biggie for fundraisers to understand. The rules for face-to-face appeals are different than printed and digital appeals.

If you and I meet face-to-face over a coffee so that I can ask for your financial support, it would be rude for me to ask you to give the moment we sit down. We will interact for a bit first. We will talk about our families, our careers, and the weather. We will sip our coffee. We will laugh. Only after some period of interaction will I introduce the opportunity for impact to you and ask you to consider a gift.

But, in your printed or digital appeal, that kind of "chit-chat" or banter will cause you to be ignored. When I get my snail mail from my mailbox, I sort it over the trash can. Most of it goes straight to the garbage unopened. I will open some pieces, glance at the contents, and toss them.

In a few moments, I will decide if a piece of mail is relevant to or has anything to do with me. When it isn't, it is quickly tossed away. I determine that by glancing at the letter in a way that quickly tells me what to do.


No one is ever prepared to read...[your appeal] slowly line by line, beginning with the first line after opening the envelope. I'm talking about reading every page and every line consecutively. You will be the only person to have read your mailing in this manner. The reader takes quite a different path. - Siegfried Vogele

Years ago, Professor Siegfried Vogele, with sophisticated eye-mapping techniques, proved how your donors "read" your printed appeals.

Your donors judge your appeal in at least two flowing glances. In glance one, they look at three areas of the page. At this first glance, they will decide if they will give it a second glance. Very few will read the whole thing. Very few!

#1: Top right

The top right portion of your printed letter is the first place your reader's eye will fall. This spot is "expensive" real estate in your letter. It is a great place to put your call to action, the unique benefit of giving today, or introduce urgency with a deadline.

#2: Address block & salutation (their name)

To your reader, the sweetest sound in the universe is their name (Dale Carnegie). Make sure you are addressing them by name. NOT:

  • Dear friend

  • Dear supporter

  • Dear unnamed person whose name I don't know

Of course, you know that misspelling the person's name is a huge negative and will get your appeal tossed!

#3: Signatory, signature

People skip from their name down to the signature. But, as they go, they will glance at bits of text on the page. They will notice if it is a "wall of text" or if it is written in short, easy-to-read paragraphs of no more than four lines. A letter with long, run-on sentences in huge paragraphs about you and your organization will be tossed immediately.

Your readers want to know if this letter is from a real person, NOT AN ORGANIZATION. Your letter should be signed by you or the person who is the "face" of your fundraising.

#4-5 P.S.

Professor Vogele found that 90% of readers stopped to read a P.S. on a letter word for word!

This means that the P.S. is very likely the first thing in your letter the reader has actually paid attention to, and they read it in full before making the decision to engage with the actual letter. In a sense it's a point of transition between glancing at stuff...and deciding to actually engage with something properly. SOFII

Smart visionary fundraisers who understand that no one reads their printed letters and appeals top to bottom, line by line, strategically position their message in these first five places. This makes the P.S. another precious piece of real estate in their letters.

You will want to ensure that the P.S. summarizes the call-to-action and the benefits to the donor for making a gift today. If someone only glances at your letter and reads the P.S., they know everything they need to know.

Second pass

#6 Why you are writing: Benefits

If your reader has decided to give your letter a second glance, they already know who you are and what you want (from the P.S.). They are interested. In the opening lines of your letter, you will want to help your reader understand the opportunity and the benefits of taking action today. You might point out the evidence of these benefits and what steps you want them to take. Some benefits for your donor might include:

  • Significance

  • Purpose

  • Outcome

#7-8 The CTA

The call-to-action is what you have been building up to in your letter. Your reader has already seen it in the P.S. Now, you will present them with a specific problem to solve.

Your call to action will present them with a problem to solve:

  • Feed hungry children

  • Rescue abandoned dogs

  • Save the rainforest

  • Fight cancer


  1. Present the donor with a specific problem to solve.

  2. Present the solution your beneficiaries need.

  3. Outline the solution and the exact cost.

You must repeat your CTA at least three times in the letter. Anything you say just once will go uncomprehended.

This is where urgency matters. Make it clear that their action matters:

  • Sick children are waiting on your help. Your kindness will be an answer to their prayers.

One way to introduce urgency is to give your initiative a deadline. Deadlines drive decisions. Your end-of-year initiative should be driven by your December 31st deadline.

If your donors don't need to act today, why are you writing them? This requires vulnerability. You must let donors know how much you need them.

#10-11 Vulnerability

This is a great spot to share with your reader that there will be consequences if a current need remains unmet. You ask as though you really, actually need help today. I know this kind of vulnerability is hard for many fundraisers. But, asking with this kind of vulnerability tells donors that your organization is not helping everyone, and if these monies are not raised, there will be negative consequences.

Asking with this kind of vulnerability is the "magic sauce" that makes your donors feel needed. I hope you can go there.

Through my research, I found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It's the magic sauce. - Brene Brown

More next week. This is going to be your best year yet!



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