What Went Wrong? 9 Reasons a Fundraising Appeal Fails

Nonprofit professionals often don’t have the time to indulge in anything but the most basic study of marketing dynamics. Yet, fine-tuning the details of a nonprofits’ mission for maximum impact with donors is a never-ending learning curve. There’s a tendency to gauge this impact by the success of our campaigns and fundraising appeals but what happens when an appeal results in a lackluster outcome or a total fail?

We all know what makes donors give but why do donors not give? There are plenty of resources on inspiring generosity and how to reach the emotions of our audience but not so much on the elements that can ambush our appeals.

Nine reasons fundraising appeals fail are because they:

1.  Raise more questions than answers

When your appeal lands in the hands of the intended recipient, it will immediately trigger a host of silent questions in the reader’s head. For example: Who is this? What do they want from me? Why are they asking me? Where did they get my information? What will they do with my money? Any appeal is a form of direct marketing and a good fundraising appeal will always address these unspoken queries.

2.  Don’t get to the point

Failed appeals are vague and bewildering to the reader because they lack clarity and can have conflicting messages. The purpose of a fundraising appeal should be a clear call to action. The reader will not have any doubts as to what he can do to help. Clear and concise statements are more likely to motivate giving.

no room for a fail

3.  Have a fragmented structure

Have a fragmented structure will result in a lackluster fundraising appeal. Consider the appeal as a whole and look for continuity; do the elements work together, is the key message repeated, does the fundraising ‘ask’ match the ‘ask’ in the response form?

4.  Can’t be clearly identified

If the name of your nonprofit was removed and another charity name inserted would it look and sound the same? If the fundraising appeal is so generic that a name change could work, it will lack authenticity. Every organization (and its mission) develops a unique character, one than existing donors recognize and new supporters will respond to.

5.  Have chaotic response forms

Ineffective appeals make it difficult to donate or respond to. Response forms that are cluttered with visual elements or otherwise muddled up won’t be easy to use. Are the directions clear and uncomplicated, explaining how the form should be completed and is the font easy to read? Consider the feasibility of adding a donation figure to the copy and describe the difference this would make. Have you provided multiple methods for making the donation, options like online giving, checks, direct deposits, etc.?

6.  Are dull and uninspiring

This is where the quality of writing counts; grab the donors’ heart, engage their emotions, end with a strong request. Use compelling writing to share the story and illustrate the bigger picture. Catch your reader’s attention in your fundraising appeal and take them on a journey they don’t want to end. Build on this in further communications; like an epic tale, supporters will eagerly want to hear or read more about the outcomes. We all want to know how a good story ends.

7.  Mystify the subject by trying to say too much

Too often we try to get more value out of our appeals by introducing secondary objectives. Don’t be tempted to go there, thinking to get more ‘bang for your buck’. Clarity and simplicity in everything is key to a successful fundraising appeal. What do you want the reader to do? Every other element you try to squeeze into an appeal, takes away from the primary message. Want a donation? Ask for a donation. An appeal should be specific, single-minded, undiluted by other distracting topics.

8.  Rely too heavily on smoke and mirrors

Cutting edge design and an excess of style over substance can greatly reduce the impact of the message. Sometimes, a rush of enthusiasm hides the objective to drive donations, not win awards for creative concepts. A radical approach won’t usually help the response rate and may even put some would-be donors off. Stick to the basics of a strong fundraising plan, emotive testimonials and solid, tangible asks. The other end of the spectrum; having no visual impact and dry sounding copy is just as bad. A balanced approach will be wise about design, aim for clarity with the layout and be direct with the message, keeping the reader’s focus on what’s really important.

9.  Pussyfoot around the issue of donations

This is a fundraising appeal! Its whole purpose is to ask for donations. Asking for money may make us feel awkward, but an authentic need should outweigh any lingering discomfort. No, you don’t want ‘Donate Now’ on every second line of copy but don’t leave it ‘til the end of the document, then tack it on like an afterthought. Sector professionals agree that the earlier the ‘ask,’ the better the response. Don’t be afraid to repeat the ‘ask’ several times in the appeal, using direct, straightforward wording.

Appeals that clearly state the need in an attractive and direct format and tell an engaging story get results. When the important message is clear, the story compelling and the ‘ask’ repeated more than once, focus on the response method. Ensure the respond form is straightforward and easily understood; reduce the steps as much as possible and give the donor more than one donation option.

(More about writing fundraising letters and sample letters.)

What type of fundraising appeal would you like to see from your favorite charity?


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