Fundraising Copy: How to Sell a Good Cause

There are no shortages of good causes today.

If you’ve given to any lately, you know what I mean. The second your donation clears, dozens of new charities swarm, like bees on a honeycomb.

Ugh! It’s enough to turn even the most generous soul into Ebeneezer Scrooge… or Steve Jobs.

But it’s actually a good thing — if you’re in the business of fundraising. Why? Because the request deluge is a flashing red reminder of how competitive the game is. When you stand in your donor’s shoes, it’s easier to think like them.

When they ask why they should support your organization, and not 10,000 others, what do you tell em’?

Whatever you say, it’d better be good — interesting. Because fundraising, above all else, is a story-driven business. The strength of any appeal is not based on facts and data. Facts and data support the narrative. The story in the appeal has to touch the right emotional button — right away, to avoid getting tossed, deleted, or skipped.

Consideration comes first. Then, if you can survive the scrutiny, the checkbook MIGHT come out.

Now obviously the medium you use to tell your story is tremendously important. As are the design elements. But that’s a discussion for another day. Right now, we’re going to talk emotions: the bread n’ butter of all good fundraising copy.

Desperation — meaning distress, a mental state that results in RASH or EXTREME behavior.

How much desperation to use in an appeal depends on the audience and, to a lesser extent, your situation. For example, if your organization will shut down without an immediate cash injection, then what else… use LOTS of desperate language. Certainly that worked for Oral Roberts back in 1987. He collected a cool $8 million after telling his supporters that God would kill him if they didn’t pony up.

Of course, the role of desperation in an appeal is to underline the importance of your organization’s work. It’s not about you. You need money so that the organization can CARRY ON ITS GOOD WORK or do MORE or GREATER good.

Desperation is something people only share with close friends and family members. The people they trust. If you can convey that kind of intimacy with donors, they’ll give.

To be clear, most donors are nothing like Roberts’ followers. That is, they’re smarter. They’ll bail the second they detect a whiff of fraud or dishonesty. Apply desperation language carefully in your fund-raising appeal.

Logic or reasoning, validity, rationale.

Fortunately, your organization probably has a mission statement which is — hopefully — very logical. That means, you won’t have to ever stray too far in search of the argument for your existence.

That said, you have to be aware of appearances. For example, if your organization is perceived as rich or well-funded, it makes sense to talk to potential donors about your current campaign and why money is needed in this instance.

Successful fundraising organizations segment both donors and prospective donors. By segmenting, you can tailor the appeals with more precision, based on how familiar the audience is with your organization. That’s always better than a broadcast, one-size-fits-all appeal.

Surprise — an unexpected or astonishing fact, event, or thing.

Surprises disrupt the thinking of the person reading, watching, or listening to the appeal. This is important because it slows or halts the mental check-out process. When a prospective donor checks out, it’s over.

Now, that’s not to say your appeal should look like a click-bait headline. No way. That would swallow your credibility. It’s only to say that BORING, droning, or predictable text, speech, or action is the kiss of death in fundraising.

Hope — a feeling of expectation and desire for something to happen.

Hope is the #1 reason — bar none — donors give to your organization. Hope HAS to thread its way through your appeal, no matter how desperate the plight you’re describing. Why? Without hope the cause is lost. Who donates to a lost cause? Nobody.

You show hope through a story. Within that story, you expound on strategy. It’s in the story that you show donors how THEIR money is making a difference. Donors are moved by feelings. Not necessarily a sappy, tear-jerk feeling (although that often pulls well). Rather, the feeling that comes when the donor sees themselves as the hero or co-laborer alongside you.

Tighten these four emotional strains in your fundraising copy and watch your response levels climb… even soar!

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