If you’re in the nonprofit sector and reading this, you’ve made it through the busy year-end crunch – kudos! Now to regroup - we know how vital it is to stand out in the deluge of appeals donors receive. With so much at stake, why do so many letters fall flat?
After reviewing the pleas we received from local groups this year, we created the “Donor Aggravating Fundraising Faux Pas at Year-end” (The DAFFY) Index. We encourage you to score your most recent appeal using the DAFFY Index:
Starting from zero, subtract one point for each one of these:
1. I can’t read it! Nine point, sans serif type, text on images and/or very light printing.
2. How do I give? If there’s no response device or return envelope?
3. Did you thank me? Several months later doesn’t count.
4. And what about me, the donor? Helpful hint: Count the number of “you’s” in your copy - assuming there are you’s in your copy. It’s up to you (organization) to remind me (donor) that your achievements are also mine.
5. If you don’t know me by now… Seriously, addressing a letter to someone who retired 21 years ago, and starting your letter with: “Earlier this year, you participated in…” No. Subtract two if you learn the addressee has been dead for more than a year.
6. Don’t scold me! One letter said: “I haven’t heard from you since December 2014.” Shame does not secure gifts, obligation does not ensure retention.
7. What can I do? Ask for a specific amount/outcome. This is not a major gifts solicitation - your year-end goal is meaningless to me. Ask for an amount that helps me relate my gift to what it can fund.
8. Tell enough of the story that I can be part of it! “I’m your neighbor. I was stuck; it could have ended very differently without the help of...” Stuck how? What was the crisis/risk faced? How was it helped?
And now for some redemption, give your appeal one point for each of these:
1. Tell me a compelling story “In the fund-raising business, there’s an old axiom that “one is greater than one million.” This isn’t bad math; it is a reminder that when it comes to people in need, one million is a statistic, while one is a human story. Every charity worth its salt knows that people are more likely to give in response to a child who has lost her parents than to the news of thousands of victims of a tragedy.” Arthur C. Brooks, NYTimes, 12/30/16, “To Make the World Better, Think Small”
a. Add a bonus point if you also demonstrate the 1 > 1,000,000 rule with one high quality and captivating photo.
2. You know who I am! A specific example: a PS from a new Board President offering to talk about my experiences with the organization, and a post it note from staff thanking me for my continuous support –that got my attention.
3. Your board member knows me! Even a “meh” letter stands out when it includes a personal note from a board member. This is a great opportunity both to leverage your board, and to give them a tangible way of helping. Bypass the tired woes or complaints about your board’s lack of participation in fundraising. Anyone can do this.
4. I can read it without squinting or Advil! Your letter uses a font that is easily legible both in size – like 12, or 14-point type – and a serif font.
5. You address me correctly! Honoring honorifics, plus-ones for partners, etc., demonstrate that you respect your donors (and maintain your database).
6. I can take action! Not only is a reply envelope included, but the response form is phrased in an active and direct tone. “Yes! I will save the penguins of Poughkeepsie” shows that their energy and commitment is valuable – beyond dollars and cents.
7. Don’t forget the PS! Often the second part of the letter a donor reads, and sometimes they stop there.
Adding all of these up – are you feeling and ranking positively on your appeal? Has your DAFFY index has rendered this year a negative? Take heart: you have plenty of time now to consider your messaging (and get those board members on board) for next year.