4 Things Successful Fundraising Appeals Have in Common and How to Get the Right Mix | npENGAGE

4 Things Successful Fundraising Appeals Have in Common and How to Get the Right Mix

By on Sep 23, 2014


On average, we receive 3,000 media messages every day; we see or listen to 52 of them, and we can remember only 4. So how can you make your online fundraising messages stand out among all the other messages competing for your supporters’ attention?

We know that successful fundraising appeals have 4 things in common:

  1. A compelling story
  2. A clear call to action
  3. Powerful images
  4. Dynamic subject lines

The best approach when creating content for an online fundraising appeal is to envision the whole project as a campaign. An online appeal is bigger than an email—it has multiple parts that fit together to create one compelling story. If you consider each piece individually, you run the risk of creating disjointed, confusing messages that simply can’t compete.

Here’s how to get the right mix of tone, story, and examples:

Start with your audience.

Who are you targeting for this online campaign? Existing donors?Prospects? Volunteers? Women? Every good fundraiser or marketer knows that understanding the audience is key to developing content that will move them to take action.

Develop a campaign theme and main message.

The main idea should ideally be no longer than a sentence, and it should succinctly state what message you want your audience to take away from your communication. The campaign theme should be as simple as possible to convey the main idea. The theme should be carried through your email content, subject lines, donation forms, and images, and it should also set the tone. For some campaigns, the theme can be as short as a tag line, like “serving hope.” And if you plan to also include a direct mail appeal in your campaign, the theme should remain consistent.

Add a spokesperson.

Who can tell your story best? Your best spokesperson won’t always be your CEO; sometimes it might be the program director or someone who has been impacted by your organization’s work. Depending on the theme and tone, you might want someone who can speak with authority, or maybe you want someone with a more personal touch, such as a client or program beneficiary. Brainstorm with your team who makes the most sense for your campaign.

Mix in a good story.

Describe the story you’d like to tell your supporters over the course of the fundraising campaign. While facts have a place in fundraising, people react to the emotional connection a story makes with them. People give based on how they feel, and the narrative should inspire them to take that action.

Have one clear call to action: to give.

All fundraising appeals should have one call to action—a call for the audience to make a donation. Why that gift is important, how it will make a difference, and why someone should give now is part of the story you weave with the narrative, images, and video. All of those elements should be coordinated to move the audience through the emotional steps to donate.

As you craft the emails and design the layout, make the call to action multiple times. You need more than a “donate button;” you want to make the ask at least two or three times in the body of the email. Bold and hyperlink key phrases or sentences to the donation form, and, of course, include the “donate” button too. Especially if the emails are not mobile friendly or responsive, the “donate” button is the easiest way for someone on a mobile device to click to make a gift.

Add a dash of incentives (optional).

In addition to your regular messaging, there might be other options you want to offer to constituents to incentivize giving. These tactics will require additional time to negotiate or set up.

A few examples that have proven effective:

  • Matching gift challenge
  • Gift premiums
  • Honor and memorial gifts
  • Symbolic eCommerce (gifts of inspiration)
  • Gift memberships

Start talking about these early in the planning phase so you know exactly how you will weave them into your campaign.

Include examples of giving levels.

Another important component of an online fundraising campaign is giving levels. To craft a cohesive campaign that reinforces the theme and call to action, add tangible examples to the giving levels. Providing explanations with each amount can help your audience connect their gifts to your mission.

Here are examples from different types of organizations:

  • $20 covers food and shelter for a homeless animal for one month
  • $35 pays for one week of canvassers to collect signatures for the Human Rights Campaign
  • $50 pays for one session with the Cancer Exercise Rehabilitation Program
  • $100 fills a family’s fridge this holiday season

Ideally, the donation levels should be linked to a donation form with the same corresponding amounts. If your online software allows it, add the brief descriptions to the donation form so when someone picks the level, the description appears next to it.

Create engaging subject lines (it all begins here).

Subject lines can be your first and last impression with the audience; they are the gateway to getting your email opened and read. According to Convince & Convert, 33% of email recipients open email based on subject lines. When creating subject lines, keep in mind that subject lines should be an extension of the campaign’s theme and narrative.

Examples from nonprofit fundraising campaigns:

  • [Reader’s name], you helped Sam find a home
  • Midnight Deadline: Double Your Impact
  • 25 Reasons to be a Hero
  • The Last Walk for Water
  • You’re changing the story
  • Join the club and serve hope

Plus, subject lines should be optimized for mobile devices. Try to limit them to 34 characters or less. Since most smart phones only display five or six words of subject line, brevity is vital to garnering interest.

Your donors, like all of us, are getting bombarded with emails and messages on a daily basis, so it’s become increasingly more important for you to craft online appeals that do more than just ask for money. They must delight.

Download the new eBook to craft an end of year appeal that drives action!

fundraising appeals banner ad2 Design a Fundraising Appeal that Raises More this December


Danielle Johnson-Vermenton, CFRE, is the Director, Nonprofit Strategy at PMX Agency and is often called to present at events like Digital Leap, AFP Planet Philanthropy and BBCON.  Prior to PMX Agency, Danielle worked in nonprofit technology at Blackbaud for 7 years and for 13 years with boots on the ground in roles such as director of individual giving at Boys & Girls Clubs, leadership giving manager at the Red Cross and director of development at HUGS for Kids. Danielle’s passion is inspiring nonprofits to have a plan for today with a grand vision for tomorrow. You can follow Danielle @DJVermenton and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/danielle.johnsonvermenton

Comments (2)

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