4 places to shine the spotlight in your next appeal


As a card-carrying member of both the World Wide Fund for Nature and the National Wildlife Federation, I’m living proof that a well-crafted donor appeal can pull on heartstrings and open wallets, even for the donor you’ve never reached out to before. No, I haven’t hung my complimentary car decals up yet — but you can bet those pictures of sad polar bears brought a tear to my eye while I was writing my check.

Now that the holiday season is in full swing, many nonprofits are sending out their year-end donor appeals, which means mailboxes everywhere (digital and physical) are being inundated with requests to give. How can you ensure your message captures attention and doesn’t wind up in the recycling bin?

4 Areas to Focus On in Your Next Appeal

Like a good story, the key to an effective donor appeal is to have characters or themes that resonate with your audience, that feel real and relatable. You may have some amazing research findings or program results you want to share, but at the end of the day, what people will remember are stories.

Here are four different aspects you can center your next appeal story around, whether it’s through a direct mail piece, an email, or a social media post:

1. Those You Help

Your nonprofit likely changes lives. Why not put some of them in the spotlight? As part of their Giving Tuesday fundraising efforts this year, Lollypop Farm highlighted the pets they help save, shelter, and place in new homes. But you don’t have to work with adorable animals to share a heartwarming call for support.


Consider the people (pets, plants, or otherwise) your nonprofit benefits. If possible, ask them some questions about their experience with your organization. Capture a photo or video. Make your donor appeal about them and the positive change that donors have helped create in their life.

2. Your Donors

Those who already give to your nonprofit can serve as inspiration for others to do the same. Perhaps they have a special reason they feel strongly about your cause, or they can speak to how it makes them feel good to support it. Share stories around why they give, making them — and other donors — the real heroes.

3. Your Staff

Who knows your mission better than the people who get out of bed everyday to work for it? Your staff can provide some of the most passionate testimonies on the value your nonprofit brings to our community. Conduct a short interview with one (or a few) of your employees and drill down to the impact they have, the reasons they love their job, and significant moments that have stood out for them through their experience. This can not only give your donor appeal that element of human connection, but also let your staff know they are appreciated and integral to your success.

4. Other Brand Ambassadors

In addition to your staff, current donors, and those who benefit directly from your nonprofit, you have other brand ambassadors — like your board members, community partners, program alumni, volunteers, and others who just love what you do. Highlighting them in donor appeals can help showcase the breadth of your nonprofit’s impact and provide a unique perspective.

5 More Tips for Effective Donor Appeal Writing

Now that you have some ideas around who to position front and center in your donor appeals, you’re ready to put pen to paper (so to speak). Keep these final tips in mind:

  • Less is more. If you’re anything like me, when you’re given 17 facts, you remember about one or two. But if you are told one compelling story, you don’t just remember it — you dwell on it. Don’t attempt to get in every single datapoint or success story you’ve collected since your last donor appeal. Stay focused around one story or central theme.

  • Emotion before analysis. Numbers can be powerful, but not on their own. If you want to connect with your donor appeal recipients, you have to make them feel something. A solid approach is to include a strong visual element, such as video or professional grade photography.

  • Tie it all together. Like any campaign your nonprofit puts out, your appeal should be branded, so it feels both uniquely yours and cohesive. Can you give your appeal efforts a name, like your own spin on Home for the Holidays or Helping Hands? By branding your appeal — wrapping everything in the same color pallete, messaging, and look and feel — you increase its memorability and effectiveness.

  • Consider your timing. A whopping 30% of annual giving happens in December — 10% in the last three days of the year. You may be hesitant to add to the noise, but people really do have giving on the brain and expect to receive donor appeals. However, it’s important to figure out when a gift would make the most impact for your organization (and perhaps stand out a little more in people’s inboxes).

  • Make it easy on donors. No matter what story you share, you should always conclude your donor appeal with a clear call to action that eliminates any confusion around where and how to give to your nonprofit. If it’s a tangible piece, include a big bold URL. If it’s digital, add a big bold button. Make it obvious and minimize any friction that will deter generosity.

  • Think about an extra incentive. A group of us at The Cause Collaborative recently attended a luncheon for The Women’s Foundation, where a donation of $50 or more got donors a T-shirt with the message Lift Your Sister. We all gave — to support the organization and score a sweet T. Is there something your nonprofit can send to donors who give at a certain level?

As 2018 comes to a close, best wishes for successful donor appeals from all of us at The Cause Collaborative. And if you want to kick around some ideas for future fundraising efforts, get in touch! We’d love to hear from you and support more great causes in our region.

Kate RosinskiCause Marketing