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Written Appeals: Imaginative Ways to Ask Donors to Give More

Resource Center - Foundation

(Jan. 12, 2009) Caught in a rut with how you make the “ask” in your appeal letters? Want to encourage annual fund donors to give more? Here are some effective strategies.

The following is an excerpt from the book, Open Immediately! Straight Talk on Direct Mail Fundraising: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why by Stephen Hitchcock, available for purchase at the AFP Bookstore.

Ways of Asking for the Gift

“Last year you generously contributed $25 to support our Annual Fund. This year, I hope you’ll consider a gift of $50 to help us reach our more ambitious goal.”

What you see above is the usual way fund raisers try to encourage donors to give more. It works. Sure. But there are more imaginative ways to ask – much more imaginative ways – and my experience shows that they often work better. The ones you see below have brought in direct mail gifts of $100, $1,000, and even $5,000.

Your current donors want to contribute as much as they can to efforts that they feel deserve support. But they need your guidance to know what your organization really needs. If it seems to be $5, they’ll send $5 – year after year until you tell them you need $50. Then, with many of them, it will be $50 – year after year.

So, how do you increase giving? Here are six ways to do it:

1) Ask for just one amount – and make it significantly more than the donor’s highest previous gift. This may startle the donor, but it will also challenge her to rethink your cause and her giving patterns.

2) Describe BIG projects – projects with high status and significant impact.

      “Our delegation will include members of Congress, business persons and journalists. I hope you will support this dramatic private initiative with a special gift of $1,000”

3) Invite the prospect to be part of a more exclusive group of supporters.

      “I am turning to you, and to 25 other special friends of the Center, to ask that you provide leadership gifts of $5,000.”

4) Change your language when asking for larger gifts.

      “Your gift of $500 will be an investment that will underwrite this project.”

5) Offer your donor publicity – recognition for his or her larger contribution. (But be sure to give the donor a chance on the gift card or reply device to make the contribution anonymously. Not everyone likes publicity.)

      “When you underwrite this venture with a gift of $1,000, you will be joining others in the film industry as well as leading private citizens. Your name as an Associate Producer will be listed on the credits of this powerful video, as it is distributed across the country!”

6) Take a different tack. Don’t ask for a bigger gift. Ask for more gifts. For example: increase the number of gifts by using monthly giving options: $20 a month equals $240 a year. Requests for monthly pledges work well in thank-you letters and in appeals to donors who’ve given you more than one gift.

Only a small number of donors will make monthly pledges. You’ll have to wait a few years before there’s a meaningful number of monthly donors. But eventually these monthly pledgers will provide a significant portion of your cause’s annual income.

      “Your generous gift of $20 arrived yesterday, and I’m writing to say how much the Center appreciates it and to assure you that it will have an immediate, positive impact on the children here. But this letter has another purpose, too: To invite you to join the ‘Partners in Caring,’ a group of donors much like yourself who support the Center with regular monthly gifts. If you could do what you did this month, every month, the impact of your support will be tremendously amplified.”

The above is a reprint of a chapter titled “Ways of Asking for the Gift,” reproduced with permission from Emerson & Church Publishers. Click here to purchase Open Immediately! Straight Talk on Direct Mail Fundraising: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why by Stephen Hitchcock (2005).

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