Watch the Year-End Fundraising Playbook – Part 3
Welcome to Part 3 of The Year-End Fundraising Playbook. We’ve talked about some benchmarking around year-end and we’ve talked about this first category of emails that I want you to send these priming, framing, cultivation type of emails.
Now, we’re going to look at how can you go create an effective personal appeal. So this is really our core question here: How do you make a donation appeal? How do you make an effective donation appeal?
What I would charge you with is we really want these appeals to feel human, feel authentic, and feel personal. In the same way that you see this envelope on your screen that’s handwritten, although maybe that’s actually written by a robot, it almost looks like too perfect.
However, this handwritten, personalized envelope that arrives in your mailbox, this thing probably has to have a 99.9% open rate. The only reason you don’t open it is if it gets lost in the mail or something like that.
We want this personal feeling when an email arrives in the inbox because, again, we talked about this in the last lesson that people give to people, not to email machines.
So how can we make this personal, authentic, and human approach reality inside of our emails? We’ll talk a little bit about that in this first example I want to look at, I really want to talk about the structure of how do you write an effective appeal.
So this example we call the year-end overview appeal and the goal of it is to explain the stakes heading into the new year.
Now, you might mention a couple of accomplishments or things like that, you can also make that its own email to stand alone. The goal of this is to really articulate what’s changed this year related to the cause, and to the problem that your organization is trying to solve. What’s changing going into the new year?
You’re basically building the case for support as to why donations are needed, what are some of the challenges and the goals that we’re trying to achieve in the new year that we’re going to need here, donations in order to actually fuel and to impact.
So that’s what we’re trying to do – explain the stakes, and then ask for a donation right away.
I know the previous examples I said, “Don’t ask for a donation because it’s just cultivation.” We’re moving on from cultivation, we’re talking about appeals.
So you can make a donation, ask right away and directly in this type of an email. Let’s look at a real example, and it’s an older example, but I keep it in here because I think it’s got a really good articulation of the problem at hand. You can look at the date on it, you see it’s from 2017, but it’s really good.
Good copywriting spans the test of time. This email starts to use a framework that moves from the problem to the solution to the impact that the donor can make.
It includes an incentive, a call to action that’s clear.
We’re going to focus in on this problem, solution. There’s lots of room to optimize this email appeal, at least in my view, from what we’ve seen through testing and other optimization. But I really like how they articulate the problem here. It says, “UN agencies have just announced that the number of hungry people in the world has increased for the first time this century.”
Mind blown, what a huge problem that really, really needs to be solved. Let me say, a universal problem that we can all agree needs to be addressed, we’re witnessing it firsthand. Right now, 7 million people are on the brink of famine in Yemen. In South Sudan, millions more are preparing for what’s being called the hungriest start to a year on record.
So that’s the problem, it’s pretty big. Now, the problem you’re articulating and that you’re trying to solve at your organization, it might be this big, and it also might be really localized and nuanced. Maybe it feels smaller, still important, but it might not be a global problem that you’re trying to solve, but there has to be a problem if there’s no problem to solve, then there is no reason to give.
So we have to articulate what’s the issue at hand that really needs to be solved. After you’ve done that, you can move towards the solution. This says, “In emergency zones around the world, there’s a dire need for supplies, safe sanitation, and clean water.”
Now, these are big goals, big things to go try to achieve on a worldwide scale, so it’s a big solution. They might benefit from unpacking this a little bit more, and really showcasing more details of the solution and what’s the plan to go fix the problem. They do move towards a solution and then as you get further in the email, they start to try to tie it back to how does your support or your donation actually make an impact on this solution, which can go solve the problem.
So it says, “We need your support to help people survive these crises, and to ensure we can keep successful poverty fighting efforts in more than 90 countries going strong. The only way that we can do both, respond to this hunger crisis while also building long term solutions to poverty, is with your help.”
Now, there might be actually plenty of opportunity to tie the donation back to something a little bit more tangible. What are the specific ways that my gift is going to help respond to the hunger crisis? What are the types of things that my gift actually funds?
So there might be some opportunity to add more detail, to add more clarity, and maybe build more trust. I think they’re still using this framework and I think it’s impactful.
We’ll look at an example here in a moment that walks a little bit more through some opportunities to break down the problem, the solution, the impact, but then they move towards the call to action by introducing a basic incentive.
It says, “Make your tax-deductible gift,” which is really in an incentive that every nonprofit can use.
So I would challenge you to consider, beyond just the tax deduction, what types of incentives might you give someone to give? Other incentives could include a matching opportunity. Can your gift be matched up to a certain extent?
Now, driving urgency through something like a countdown clock.
Everyone has the deadline, but we can still remind people of the deadline and increase urgency. Can you get a free gift when you make a donation like a free thank-you gift? Or maybe there’s a threshold-based premium where if you give 75 bucks or more, we’re going to send you this specific thank-you gift.
These are all types of incentives that can help someone understand, not a new reason why they should give in the first place, but additional reasons why they might give now rather than later, or maybe give at a higher level rather than less.
Consider what types of incentives you can build into this email for your organization and for your program. Then we have to give a clear call to action, “Help reach our $3.5 million goal before the deadline.” Now, they’re not asking you to go solve the world hunger crisis, they’re asking for you to make a donation and help them reach the goal, which is the right next step. We don’t want to ask someone to go solve the ultimate problem with their $50 gift. That’s just not going to translate, it’s too much of a jump. We have to ask them to take the clear, right next step, which is to donate.
Here’s an example from an A/B test from an experiment around this point about making the appeal personal.
We’ve talked a little bit about the structure of the copy, but how do you make it feel more human and authentic, and why is that important?
Both versions of this email have the same exact copy, but Version A uses a whole lot more design. It’s got logos at the top, it’s got a Donate button, it’s got a big hero image with some brand language, and it’s got a progress bar.
If you were to scroll further down, you would see some more text formatting, you’d see a big HTML Donate Now button, and you’d see an image of the actual sender that’s baked into the email template.
Lots of design features that are pretty common in most marketing and fundraising emails. However, if we’re trying to send a more authentic communication, leaning into this idea that people give to people, not to marketing machines, we might need to send an email that looks more like something that you and I can send each other just through Gmail.
So Version B keeps the same exact copy but removes all of that design, those design assets. It still has a few things like different text formatting, some of the different colors, and it still has the gray wrapper background, but most of the design elements are gone.
By removing those, it actually led to a 29% increase in donations. If we’re sending from a human being, and we’re trying to have this authentic communication in the inbox, we might have to remove some of the design and some of the heavy HTML in our emails to authenticate that this is truly an email from a real person, who wants a real relationship because people give to people.
Now, I want to show you a bit more of an optimized example, in my opinion, from a more civilized age.
Again, I mentioned at the very beginning of this that I’m a pretty big Star Wars nerd and I’m not ashamed of that, so we’re going to talk about Star Wars for another moment. The Rebel Alliance, if you’re not familiar, is actively at work to bring down the Galactic Empire.
Now, for a small band of rebels to do something as big as blow up a Death Star and take down this Empire that spans across the galaxy, they probably need a really good fundraising program to raise the funds that are needed to go fuel all the different initiatives that they have.
So I put together this email appeal that they might actually send out, that works through the same framework of problem to solution, to impact, incentive, and call to action.
The reason I put this together is twofold. One, because I think it’s really fun and I like reading it out loud. But secondly, and more importantly, I want you to see that this framework can be applied not just to that Oxfam example, not just to international relief organizations, but can be applied to literally any organization, even a fictional one like the Rebel Alliance.
It says, “It’s a dark time. Although the Death Star has been destroyed, Imperial troops have driven rebel forces from their hidden base, pursued them across the galaxy.”
This means that even more innocent civilians of our Republic have been enslaved and forced to work under the tyranny of the Empire, fueling the relentless war machine that’s appending entire star systems and killing millions of life forms.
This is a huge galactic problem that needs a pretty huge and galactic solution, quite honestly.
So we move forward, after they’ve articulated the problem pretty clearly, they’ve moved forward to the solution. “There’s still reason for hope. Your Rebel Alliance is preparing an all-out assault on the 2nd Death Star with aims to end this galactic civil war once and for all.” That’s the big solution.
But how does my $50 gift or $100 gift, or even $500 gift, blow up the 2nd Death Star and take out this whole Galactic Starfleet?
We have to go tie the donation back to the real impact, and that’s what they do next. “That’s where I need your help, [First Name]. Your donation will help provide blasters, it’s going to help our ground troops, it’s going to provide food to fuel the heroes on board cruisers, provide critical equipment to help us blast through the Starfleet.”
So your gift doesn’t go solve the ultimate problem, your gift doesn’t complete the ultimate solution, but here’s the types of things that it’s going to do to help solve the problem. We have to tie that donation back to something that’s meaningful, that someone can understand where my gift is actually going to go.
Even if you’re not saying your gift is going to buy exactly this thing, you’re showing examples of the types of things that donations go towards to actually make a meaningful impact. Then they move on to some sort of incentive.
It says, “When you donate a hundred credits to the Rebel Alliance,” this is a threshold you’ve got to meet, it’s a threshold-driven premium. “Donate a hundred credits and we’ll send you a free piece of the 1st Death Star as a commemorative token and reminder of your role in this fight to save the galaxy.”
And then at the very bottom, they move towards a call to action, “Will you consider donating? You can make your donation here.”
They’re not asking someone to go blow up the Death Star or save the galaxy, they’re asking them to take the right next step, which is to donate. They’re not asking them to stand with them, which is too vague, they’re not asking them to learn more, which is too vague. They’re asking them to take the right next step, which is to donate.
Keep in mind, this is actually signed off by a real authentic human being, and a believable one at that because she’s advocating for this cause on a daily basis.
So consider, as you’re putting your emails together, who is the right person to send these emails?
It’s probably actually you because you’re the one that’s here trying to learn how to write a more effective email. So the most believable person to be sending it is probably you. So send from an authentic and a believable sender.
The key principle that I want you to walk away from this lesson with is that donors are logical people. You and I are both logical people, donors are the same way. We have to give them real reasons why they should give. We can’t just talk about the deadline because everybody can talk about the deadline, we can’t just talk about the tax deduction because everyone can talk about the tax deduction.
What are the core reasons why I should give to you rather than to any other organization that’s trying to raise funds during the year-end season?
So we’ve got to give clear, concrete, and real reasons why someone should give.
Now, coming up in our last lesson from The Year-End Fundraising Playbook, we’re going to talk about the third category of emails that I want you to build into your campaign, specifically when we’re getting really close to a deadline. So that’s coming up in our final lesson.
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