Too often, well-meaning nonprofits generate messaging that focuses on their organization's strengths and what they do—their spectacular programs, the leadership's qualifications, the illustrious history of their organization, etc. Unfortunately, this approach—which, at its worst, lapses into self-absorbed navel-gazing—does not typically work well for fundraising, particularly when paired with direct response media such as mail, social, and email.
When constructing messaging for direct response fundraising, it is imperative to identify the problem that the organization is helping to solve and frame the donor as a partner in helping to solve that problem.
Think about it, if your messaging focuses exclusively on how great your organization is, what is the motivation for a potential donor to give? Remember, the fundamental question in the back of the donor's mind is why do you need me—and, by extension, my money? And what will my money accomplish?
If you want to raise more money with your direct response messaging, make sure your creative content answers the following five questions developed by Mark Loux:
- What is the problem your organization will solve?
Is it hunger among children in your community? A lack of clean water in African communities? Be specific and concrete.
- How will your organization solve the problem?
Are you providing food boxes to neighborhood families in need? A well for an impoverished village in Uganda? Again, the more specific your solution, the better.
- How much does it cost to provide this solution?
Attaching an actual dollar amount to the solution can do wonders for your fundraising. Along those lines, don't be nervous about naming large amounts, even if your actual ask amounts in your copy are much lower. If the new well costs $20,000 to build, you should mention this amount in your copy, even if your direct response donors tend to give less. Why? It gives the reader the chance to participate in achieving a concrete goal. You can include phrases such as "your gift of $25, $50, or $75 will help [accomplish the big goal]". Also, keep in mind that it's not unheard of to have a donor surprise everyone and send a gift for the full amount.
- How will the donor's gift help solve the problem?
Encourage your would-be donor to envision the situation's outcome, and how the problem will be alleviated thanks to their generosity. For example, by providing a gift of $25, the donor will ensure that a community has easy access to water that is safe to drink, reducing the risk of dehydration and water-borne diseases.
- What is the urgency?
Why is it important that the donor give right now? If you don't establish the urgency of your appeal, your reader will not be compelled to respond and your appeal will end up shoved under a bunch of papers, deleted, or stuffed in the recycling bin. You might have an internal deadline for donations to your appeal (matching gifts are great for this!) or you can simply speak to the situation you're looking to solve. In the case of the well illustration, perhaps people are dying daily in the region due to the lack of water, and you need immediate action on the part of the donor in order to save their lives.
By answering these five questions, you'll keep your messaging focused on the problem, the solution, and how the reader can help. Ultimately your donors and prospects will be more motivated to give, and you'll start to see better responses from your fundraising appeals.
For more on avoiding negative stereotypes in messaging the problem your organization is solving, see Karen's piece on Navigating nonprofit messaging and negative stereotypes.