Nonprofit copywriting tips: 5 “how-to” fundraising pointers from direct mail pros

Nonprofit copywriting tipsAccording to an article in DM News, even when integrating online and social media elements to their marketing toolbox, direct mail continues to be a winning strategy for nonprofit marketers.

“We are, as much as possible, using multichannel marketing, but most of our eggs are in direct mail. We have been in the direct mail business for more than 15 years, and it is our most robust database of donor information,” said Elizabeth LaBorde, VP of development at the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “Our most loyal donors are found through the direct mail program. By far, the biggest revenue generator is direct mail.”

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is another nonprofit relying on direct mail. “… everyone says it’s [direct mail] going to die out, but it is still the most effective way of reaching new donors and cultivating them,” explained Brian Cowart, SVP of national direct mail for St. Jude’s.

After reading this, and beginning work on a direct mail piece for a nonprofit client, I decided to share some nonprofit copywriting tips with you. These tips are from a “How-To” Report I wrote entitled “Feedback from Fundraising Pros: Boost your results using “how-to” advice from industry experts.” Here’s what some of my direct mail colleagues advise:

1. Joan Throckmorton: “Fantasy-come-true . . . can also be used in fundraising. ‘Imagine what you could to to help realize this dream,’ is an excellent approach to fundraising as long as the dream is realizable.”

For instance, in a piece that I wrote for The Children’s Hospital Foundation, the letter touched donors with content that read:
“When I was 11 1/2 years old I was diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t think I’d live to see my wedding day. Now I’m 22 and on…I walked down the aisle thanks to The Children’s Hospital…Donations from charitable people like you contributed to my story of recovery…Please help begin stories of hope for children by sending in your contribution today.”

2. Another from Joan Throckmorton: “People enjoy a good story and if you have a short relevant one that pulls your prospect right into your benefits, don’t be afraid to use it. If it’s very good (and very pertinent) and your writing is especially keen, you might even consider starting on the envelope.”

3. Mal Warwick:
“Answer your reader’s questions before they’re even asked.” Two specific questions that might leap into your reader’s mind at the first sight of your fundraising letter include “Have I heard of this organization before?” and “Do they really need my help?”

4. Herschell Gordon Lewis: Clearly and convincingly let your readers know exactly what you want them to do. Don’t just say “You can help.” If you want their donations, ask them. “If you don’t ask for help, you won’t receive any.”

5. Another from Herschell Gordon Lewis: Along the same lines as point #4 above, tell the reader how much to give. When writing prior donors, remind them how much they gave last time and this time ask them for a little more.

Anticipating the concerns of your readers and addressing them in your direct mail letter helps you gain their trust and allegiance. With that in your favor, backed by content that includes the above “how-to” pointers, your prospects are bound to reach into their pockets to show their support while your existing donors continue to demonstrate their dedication to your cause.

If you’re working on a nonprofit direct mail campaign or recently completed one, please help others succeed by sharing your insight and advice here. What do you say?

I say, I’d love to hear from you.