“Movements are built by and for the people. The people generate the movement, spread the rallying cry of the message, and depend on one another to meet the collective’s goals in addressing the social issue at hand. The people, though, are bound by a common vision and a common narrative — to change the course of an issue that has affected so many people. But how is this possible? How can an individual turn his or her attention from the general issues present in so many communities to the importance of one issue affecting a group of people they may have never met before? Or take a stand for a concept that may never even affect them personally? It comes down to the message and a story. A story based on a vision for change for people or communities that need it most.”
— excerpt from Social Movements for Good
If you're like a lot of our clients, you're starting to work on (or at least think about) your year-end fundraising appeals. Although successful year-end campaigns are driven by a strategic combination of factors, one above all others is both critical and often the most challenging to execute: messaging.
From the belief statement (also called the opening or donor statement) and opening sentence or two to pull quotes, calls to action, and the ever-important P.S. line, you have a limited amount of space (and time) in which to capture potential donors' attention, communicate your story, and, of course, persuade them to donate.
That's a lot of work!
When it comes to developing messaging for a fundraising appeal, I'm asked one question more than any other: How do I get started? Though it can be a challenge to get past writer's block and craft effective messages for a year-end campaign, I always suggest that you first ask yourself these four simple questions:
1. What makes your organization unique? Chances are yours isn't the only organization working to address or solve your particular issue. And that's okay! A fundraising appeal is your chance to call out — loudly and clearly — what’' unique or different about your organization.
Supplemental questions to consider: Why does your organization exist (i.e., why does it do the work it does)? Whom do you serve (demographically, geographically, etc.)? What's special or compelling about the population you serve? How does your organization approach its work? What's unusual or unique about that approach? How is it different from the approach employed by other organizations?
2. Why should a donor give to your organization now? Why the sense of urgency behind your organization's appeal? Sure, responses like "It's the last chance for you to claim a tax deduction" or "Matched funds are available for a limited time" are valid, but end-of-the-year appeals really are your chance to think big.
Still struggling? Think in reverse: What won't happen if you don't hit your fundraising targets? Who won't be helped? What might happen if they aren't served by your organization?
3. How does your organization help people? Beyond broad responses such as “We connect people to the skills they need" or "We strengthen parents' engagement in their children's education," think more specifically about the effect your programs are having on individuals. Think about that impact on both the tangible and intangible level. Then think bigger: As a result of your organization making it possible for one person to do or have x, what are they now able to do? How has their life trajectory been affected? Are they now able to contribute to the broader community in ways they weren't before? How does the community benefit from the improved prospects of the people you serve?
4. What do you want donors to do? Why do people give? Put simply, people give because it makes them feel good. One study I examined when writing my book Social Movements for Good even found that people reacted positively when paying taxes if they believed that a portion of the amount they were paying would be used to help a local charity or cause. Your year-end appeal is the perfect time to tap into that feel-good emotion and tell potential supporters that now is their chance to make a real difference in the lives of real people, maybe even people they know.
Once you've developed (short) responses to the above questions, start to think about how to bring them all together in an effective appeal. If you're still stuck, check out these additional tips:
- When crafting your belief statement, try starting with "We believe…" and then follow with a clear articulation of what your organization stands for.
- Include participatory, "you"-centric language (e.g., "Are you in?") in your appeal that makes potential supporters feel as if they're joining a community of like-minded people.
- Use emotive language that shows rather than tells. (Insider’s tip: Find another word for "impact.")
- Share the story of a specific individual and how your organization's services/actions/efforts improved his or her life.
- Be creative! Don't feel you have to write your appeal in a certain way simply because that's what your organization has always done. For inspiration, look at what other organizations (especially national or well-known ones) are doing to capture their share of year-end giving.
Developing fundraising messaging for the most critical giving period of the year can be daunting, but, if approached strategically, that messaging can mean the difference between a successful and a not-so-successful year-end season. If you keep the above tips in mind when thinking about your year-end campaign, come December 31 you just may be pleasantly surprised.
Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and marketing agency for causes, and the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble