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A Year-End Fundraising Flop?

January 27th, 2014 Posted in Fundraising

Be honest — was your letter more about you than your donor?

Dear Marc:
Why didn’t people give to my year-end fundraising letter? 

~ Sincerely, Frustrated 

Dear Frustrated: Thank you for sending me your letter so I could look at it myself. If I may be frank, it’s pretty bad. But before I get to that, let me start with expectations.

Setting expectations 
What was your goal for this appeal? Many nonprofits live by the fundraising version of the “Field of DreamsOpens in a new window” fallacy: If you mail it, they will give.

Not so. Those in the direct-mail industry report that even the best appeals only get around a 1 percent response. So if you send 100 letters, you’ll be “doing well” to get one response.

Beyond that, had you figured out how much you wanted to raise from it based on similar appeals your nonprofit has sent? You don’t have to shoot in the dark. Does a mailing at this time of the year typically bring in a lot of money?

Now to the letter
I applaud you for your courage in asking for help. There’s a lot of excellent free advice on writing effective fundraising letters. Here are the glaring items that stand out from your letter.

1. You didn’t use my name. If you can get a letter to me with my name on the envelope, there’s no excuse for not addressing me on the letter. “Dear Friend” is a sign of laziness.

2. You didn’t have a P.S. Even if I were interested enough in your cause to get over the “Dear Friend,” you left me hanging. Where is the postscript? This is Fundraising Letter 101. You’re not writing a business letter for your high school teacher. You’re writing a fundraising letter to motivate giving. You need a P.S. in the letter to let me know what you want, why and by when.

3. You are clearly narcissistic. The first two are glaring. But even if I was interested enough to read the letter, you bored me to tears. This letter wasn’t about me at all. The “Dear Friend” showed that, but the letter boldly confirmed that this is all about you, not me.

● You used terms like “us,” “our space,” “our community musical” and “our founders” at least 14 times in the letter. You only used “you” and “your” eight times. In fact, the first five paragraphs didn’t mention me at all!

So mentioning me eight times in the last paragraph was not only overkill, it made it clear that I’m just an afterthought. It’s the proverbial bad date where the arrogant person finally stops talking by asking, “Well, that’s enough about me. Now, tell me, what do you think about me?”

Rather than telling me how cool you are, why not tell me how cool people like me are who support the work and fund the impact?

● You gave four answers to the question, “Why should anyone care about the annual appeal?” (Not a great question, but it would be better if it was, “Why should you care … ?”) The problem is the layout. It’s all text without anything for my eye to follow. The margins are tiny. Even the four answers lack consistent numbering. The first is “first,” but the next is, “Then there is.”

If you’re committed to the four-answer format, it would be much better to put these answers in a numbered, bulleted list.

● Finally, people like me are just as narcissistic as you. We don’t care about your organization. Especially not as much as you do. And you should be glad for that. If we cared as much as you do, we’d probably be working there too! We’d be costing the organization rather than funding it.

So talk to us. Tell us why giving to you makes us special. Tell us about what impact we make possible because of our wise decision to give.

The best line was about $1 invested in our region returning $14 to our region. And that that money stays local. Tell me about how my gift to you helps keep my friends employed and my stores open! Instead, you chose to bury it in the very middle of the letter. And you didn’t even italicize or bold it.

4. You confused me. Finally, you totally confused me. The letter talks about history and programming and founders. Then there’s the paragraph where you wake up and remember that I’m still there. In that paragraph, you plead with me to make a gift.

But in the last line, you say you look forward to seeing me at an upcoming show!

As a reader, I got a bit of whiplash. A show? Oh. So I could just buy a ticket instead of making a gift? That lets me off the hook.

I’m only skimming the letter, so you need to make it really clear what you want me to do. If you want me to make a gift, only talk to me about making a gift. Make your call to action about making a gift. (By the way, I have no idea what a “remittal envelope” is. I can only assume it’s what you included with the letter.)

So, Frustrated, I’m sorry the letter didn’t work like you hoped. I can tell you’re passionate about your organization. You’re supposed to be. But I hope you can see why your fundraising letter wasn’t effective. You need to inspire me to action — the action of writing a check or making a gift online. These tips will help you with your next letter.

~ To your fundraising success, Marc

Marc Pitman is the author of “Ask Without Fear!” and founder of FundraisingCoach.comOpens in a new window and the weekly e-mail service “Fundraising KickOpens in a new window.” He is also a member of the FundRaising Success Editorial Advisory Board. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @marcapitman


January 2014

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