November 2010 Archives

November 28, 2010

Fundraising Oops of the Week: Dull Opening Sentence

The holiday appeal letters continue to stream in. And here, I'm sad to say, is an opening sentence that was good for an instant yawn:

Right now, hundreds of dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens in our shelters are awaiting adoption into new homes.

What's wrong with it, you ask? I can name at least five reasons that the average reader wouldn't be inspired to read any further.

1) It says nothing new or surprising. Anyone could have written that sentence, with no access to inside information. In fact, it confirms many of our sad suspicions that we're up against some long-term, insoluble problems.

2) It's mind-numbingly general. The word "hundreds" doesn't evoke any images in my mind, and "dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens" sounds more like part of a children's book rhyme than a reference to real animals. Where's the unique story, perhaps of an actual, named animal waiting to be released from its cage into a loving home, or a volunteer who works with them? And while we're at it, what does "our shelters" mean? If it had named the city or neighborhood I live in, I might have felt a greater sense of connection to the issue.

3) It doesn't reach out to the reader. The voice of the writer is completely absent, and there's no reference to a connection with me, the reader. It could have been a public service announcement. (Just a reminder of why many appeal letters are written from "I" or "we" to "you.")

4) It lacks any sense of urgency. Why should I pay attention to this now, rather than later? By the sound of it, the shelters are accustomed to housing these animals.

5) It doesn't give me a reason to believe I can be part of bringing about change in the near future. Dropping another donation into the endless bucket of need isn't very satisfying, and there's ample evidence that the appeals people respond best to are the ones that tell them, "All we need is $X amount today and we can find homes for xx animals tomorrow!"
I don't mean to say that every one of these things should be encompassed within an appeal letter's opening sentence. But if none of them are, that's trouble -- a guaranteed free ride to the recycle bin. But hey, at least it's grammatically accurate!
November 20, 2010

Fundraising Kudos to: Alameda County Community Food Bank

It's the season for holiday appeal letters, and given the flood of them, it takes a lot for one to stand out. But I received an appeal card from the Alameda County Community Food Bank recently that took a clever approach.

The front of the card showed an incredibly cute smiling baby, with the words "'Tis the Season." Upon opening the card, you see the words, "To Fill Hungry Tummies." But here's what I thought was the kicker: The next line says, "Before you read any further, look at the little guy on the front one more time."

And you know what? I did. With that one simple command, the writer stopped me in my usual tracks -- which normally involve tearing up these letters -- and got me to look into the face of a (presumably) needy kid. (Actually, he looks about as well fed as a kid can. But as I said, he was cute!) Drawing the reader's attention in for a closer look has to be the number one goal of charity appeal letters, and this one did that admirably. The rest of the letter was pretty darn good, too. 
November 17, 2010

Happy National Nonprofit Month!

It's National Nonprofit Month, and Nolo is celebrating with a Nonprofit Sale! From now until December 9th, 2010, you can save at least 40% on all nonprofit offerings, including my bestseller Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits and the brand new -- and very important -- book Nonprofit Fundraising Registration, by Attorney Stephen Fishman. (If you're soliciting donations via a website, you particularly need to find out the rules on where you need to register.)

November 16, 2010

A One-Woman Fundraising Pitch That Worked

I always enjoy The New York TImes' annual "Giving" section, and this year one theme that stood out was the power of individual action.

Take, for example, the article, "Pooling Small Contributions Hoping for Big Results." It profiles a 20-year-old volunteer named Kelsey Warner, who got involved in a charity in Waltham, Massachusetts called Small Can Be Big. This organization tries to reach the young, wired generation, inpsiring them to solicit modest donations to help with individual cases of need, via social networks.

Warner got interested in the case of a single mom named Raquel Rohling, whose child had developed cancer. Rohling had, as a result, become unemployed and was living in a homeless shelter.

In 400 words, Warner wrote a brilliant summary of the issue and the case for support -- one that more experienced fundraisers could learn a thing or two from. Here's my annotated excerpt:

"Mrs. R was once employed, with an apartment, a car, and furniture." [Good way to make the reader think, "Oh, she's just like us, not someone looking for a handout."]

"When Little R was diagnosed with (leukemia), everything changed. Mrs. R sold all of her belongings to pay for treatments . . . " [Uh oh, she's just like us but with unimaginable bad luck -- and she's a sympathetic mother figure, sacrificing everything for her child, to boot.]

"Putting this mother and son into a safe apartment would be one step in a long process of returning to the life they once knew." [Warner points to an achievable solution -- this isn't just another hopeless news headline for us to turn away from.]

"$1,500 by December 20th gives this family a very happy New Year, and a place to call home. How can you help?" [Brilliant! A sense of time urgency, and a way to make a major change in this needy woman's life -- who wouldn't want to donate?]

In fact, this pitch was highly successful -- 18 people from across the United states donated enough to reach the $1,500 goal, and Ms. Rohling moved into her new apartment. Now, how can you craft your pitches to reach similarly achievable goals?

November 6, 2010

Fundraising Oops of the Week

This just in from a friend:

"I'm wondering what the [nonprofit who shall remain nameless] was thinking when they wrote to me to encourage me to mention them in my will, closing with the cheery, 'The great thing about this is, you don't have to pay until you die!' . . . Those three last words are haunting me. . . "

Uh oh. An apparently misfired effort to take a tongue-in-cheek approach to a heavy topic. Maybe it's better to run these efforts past a few more people before putting them into print!

November 2, 2010

Fundraising Kudos to the Atlanta Botanical Garden

. . . for its great website, in particular the section outlining volunteer positions, at

Here are some of the many things they did right when it comes to enticing volunteers:

1) Made it easy to find out about volunteer opportunities (from the homepage, a simple click on "Get Involved" and then "Volunteer" got me there).

2) Create named volunteer positions, instead of vague instructions to "call so and so" about volunteering.

3) Provide clear explanations of what's fun about each position -- as well as what's required. This helps get prospects enthusiastic while also realizing that they'll be taking on a serious responsibility -- not just something they can show up for one weekend and then forget about.

4) Include lovely photos, to make it seem real to viewers.

Gee, wish I lived in Atlanta . . . .