Image used with permission. Copyright

  Image used with permission. Copyright

Reach Their Hearts, Not Their Heads

I love committees.  I’m serious. I do. Those of you who know me personally know, I’m an extrovert. I’m energized by being in a room full of other people. I love brainstorming and discussions. 

But there are somethings a committee shouldn’t do and writing your end of the year appeal letter is one of them.

Fundraising communications specialist Tom Ahern has a strict rule that absolutely no approvals are allowed. The fundraising/development specialist alone is allowed to write, review, and approve the copy for the appeal, he insists, and with good reason.

A friend and fellow development professional told me about her experience working with a disability rights organization. She said that she wrote an end of year appeal letter about a situation where a nonverbal child was being abused by a teacher and the organization she served was able to help the parent obtain the proof the mother needed to have the teacher pulled out of the classroom and arrested. When the development professional went to write this story about how the organization had helped this very grateful parent, her board committee completely watered it down, insisting that there be no reference to teachers lest everyone think that they were unfairly focusing on the bad teachers when the majority were good. They also struck references to child abuse because that was too harsh and had not yet been proven in a court of law. By the time the committee was finished, there were “alleged irregularities” that had happened at a school (by who knows whom?). The story just didn’t pack the same punch.

Details make the story. For social service organizations, storytelling can be challenged by lack of freedom to share all the details to begin with. We can face constraints from HIPAA or other client confidentiality rules so to have a board or staff committee further limit what we can say is especially frustrating.

Not only are committees good at watering down appeals, they are also good at filling them up with things that don’t work…like data. I’ve heard many board members, especially, very rational business people, insist that donors make informed decisions and what the appeal needs to give them is more solid information on which to make their decision.

There are some donors who appreciate some information, but the overwhelming majority are not going to read tables, facts, figures, graphs, or other information. Donations, in large part, are emotional decisions. People make them with their hearts and not with their heads. Our appeals need to focus on moving our donors to action by touching their hearts not on persuading them to action by convincing their minds.

Donors are not looking to us to be educated; they’re looking to us to be inspired. This holiday season, as you write your appeal, write about what is truly inspirational about your organization. What has happened at your organization that has moved you. What has changed lives? Don’t explain poverty and the causes of it to us; tell us about someone who–because of your organization–is no longer living in poverty. Don’t explain the cycle of domestic violence; share with us the story of a woman who has managed to break free.

Finally, don’t forget to give the donor you are writing at least some of the credit for the good work your organization is doing. Without your donor, no good work could get done. So share credit with your donor:  “Look what we’ve accomplished…” or “Together, we’ve….” or “Your donations have made possible…” Honor your donor’s participation in your work in your end of year appeal.

Need help writing your appeal? Our firm can assist. We are working with a few agencies on their end of year appeals, but we have room for one or two more clients. If that’s you, contact us and we can talk about helping you with your end of year appeal.


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