MoonClerk has many nonprofit clients with incredible stories to tell. These organizations are doing great work and are working hard to further worthwhile missions. In many cases, all that’s needed to continue this great work is… money.  Sending donation letters by email can be a key strategy for acquiring the funds needed to achieve your worthwhile goals. But how do you tell your story to donors in a way that empowers them and compels them to open their wallet (or more accurately, their credit card balance) and click your oh-so-prominent “Donate Now” button?  Regardless of whether you are a MoonClerk client, are still exploring our options, or are committed to another system, we want to provide some tips for sending donation letters by email so that you can catapult your organization past your fundraising goals.

Step One – Pre-Preparation: Develop a Story Bank

The first step to any communication elements – whether they’re newsletters, donation letters by email, or press releases- is to have a compelling story/testimonial that illustrates your impact.  Having a selection of these “success stories” on hand is an invaluable tool.  Your organization should be constantly on the lookout for those stories that tug at the heart strings. You’re a part of your organization because you are passionate about the cause.  When you see a demonstration of your mission at work, ask for a testimonial.  Be sure the testimonial captures:

  • the emotion of the story
  • the importance of the work your organization is doing, and
  • how the main character’s life was impacted

Be sure to take a picutre (preferable an action shot in the proper context/environment, but a headshot will suffice) and obtain a signed release allowing you to publish the story and photograph.  Having a selection of testimonials on-hand that you can pick and choose from as the occasion arises will prove useful time and time again as you’re creating your donation letters by email.

Step Two – Identify the Message

The key to successful donations letters by email is sending the right message.  Each donation letter you send needs to have a timely, unique and compelling message to share.  Start by thinking about your current priorities; what are the initiatives or programs you are currently focusing your attention on?  Make a list of 3-4 potential topics.  Once these have been identified it’s time to decide which topic will be the best to focus on for an email donation letter.  While every program and activity your nonprofit undertakes is important and in need of funds; not all of them will help you get money in the door.  When developing donation letters by email, you need to focus on a compelling story.  Stories raise money – not statistics.  Yes, it is important to show your impact in a tangible, quantifiable way, but the story is the main course, the stats are just a garnish.

Think about each of your potential topics. In order for the donation letter to be successful you need to have access to a testimonial demonstrating the impact of your chosen topic. The best testimonials focus on a protagonist with whom your donors can identify, someone who reminds your donors of themselves or someone they love – someone who can be respected and related to.  Hopefully you already have several stories to choose from, but if not, now is the time to capture at least one effective testimonial.  If you have more than one topic with a corresponding testimonial – use the topic that appeals to the largest segment of your donors.

Step Three – Writing Your Story

Once you’ve identified the subject of your appeal it’s time to start writing. Remember, when writing donation letters by email, it’s important to be succinct, compelling and conversational.  Empower your donors.  Highlight how the donor is responsible for your success and how their gift will make more happy endings.  Use “you” language (e.g. you can help keep a child off the street). Your appeal should have the same elements of any compelling story:

Hook: Open the appeal with the event that sets the characters and action in motion.  Get the reader’s attention in the beginning and give them a reason to care about the people and the story going forward.  The first sentence has to capture the audience and set the scene. Make them care about what the rest of the email says.

Plot:  In one or two short paragraphs explain the circumstances and obstacle that had to be overcome.

Transformation: What changed?  How did your organization facilitate a change for the better? Think about the impact, what is different and what has changed as a result of the story you’re telling.

Call for action:  Have a specific call for action.  “Make a donation today” is not good enough.  Show your donors how their contribution will help continue the story and help others facing the same or similar challenges (e.g. $20 will allow us to feed a family for a day, or $50 will provide educational materials for a classroom of children). The more specific you can be, the better the appeal.

The Post Script: A PS. can be an important tool to pull everything together.  This is a great place to use a statistic quantifying the impact your organization is achieving (e.g. PS: With the help of the generous contributions of our donors, ABC Youth Outreach was able to keep 5,000 youth off the streets last year.).

Don’t get caught up in explaining all the details – include just enough information to allow the reader to engage with the story.  Once you have the first draft of your appeal written, read it out-loud. Does it sound like a speech or does it sound like what you would say if you had time to talk over coffee with every donor? Re-work and edit until it looks and sounds right.

Step Four – The formatting is the icing on the cake

Visual appeal is an important aspect of sending successful donation letters by email.  A good email marketing system such as MadMimi, MailChimp, or others give even the smallest, under-staffed nonprofit the ability to create visually appealing donation letters by email. The key to a good-looking, successful fundraising email is to make it look appealing in a way that conveys your mission, without getting busy or over-stimulating.

  • Find a background that fits with your mission and your overall marketing design.
  • Use fonts consistent with your other materials, using no more than two separate typefaces
  • Be sparing and intentional with the use of bold, underline, or italics.
  • Include 1-2 pictures that match your story (one should be a picture of the subject of the story).
  • Make the donation link easy to find. Include a link in the 1st paragraph, a button on the side and another link in the body of the text with the call for action. People are lazy – don’t make donors hunt for a donation button or link.

With MoonClerk, you can choose to design a specialized donation page that matches the design and theme of your donation letter, or you can link to your standard donation page. Having a specialized form can increase continuity and simplicity.

Step Five – It’s all for naught if the email doesn’t get opened

Often, the most daunting step in completing donation letters by email is… the subject line. The subject line determines if your message will be opened or deleted. Be succinct. It has to capture your audience with the fewest words possible. Choose 3-6 words that capture the essence of your message and give the reader a compelling snapshot of what is inside.  Stay tuned for more hints on crafting the right subject line in our next blog post.

If you’d like, we’d love for you to read more about how MoonClerk may be able to help your nonprofit.