What makes a fundraising appeal unsuccessful?

15th November 2020

Over the last 17 years, I have created and evaluated hundreds of fundraising letters, emails, web pages, and integrated fundraising campaigns for Christian organisations of all sizes.

And, over time I have jotted down the common traits of both successful and unsuccessful fundraising appeals.

But, let’s start with the unsuccessful ones because there are more of them around.

So, what do unsuccessful appeals have in common?  

Unsuccessful appeals fail to respond to the donor’s unspoken questions. According to Siegfried Vogele, the father of direct marketing a good fundraiser like you should anticipate the questions in the reader’s mind and answer them clearly in the letter, the email and, other fundraising communications they are writing.

These questions focus on the charity and the work or the project you are asking the donor to support. For example, the donor might be thinking:

Who is this charity?
Have I donated to them before?
How are they addressing me?
Where did they find my details?
Why should I support their work?
How will they make a difference? 
What is required of me? ……   
And, more.

Unsuccessful appeals lack clarity about what they are asking the reader to do. They contain unclear statements like ‘with your money, we will impact many lives‘ or vague and confusing fundraising asks like ‘ support our general fund‘ or ‘we urgently need £50,000 can you please give £10.’

Unsuccessful appeals lack cohesiveness. In other words, the key messages and fundraising ‘asks’ are not repeated consistently throughout the letters or emails. The arguments for making a gift do not flow and the copy does not read well.

This often happens when the fundraising letter or the email is edited by several people who take out sentences or statements and replace them with others truncating the story and disrupting the flow of arguments that can hold the donor’s attention and motivate them to give.

Unsuccessful appeals lack authenticity. You know what I am talking about, the kind of appeals where you can take the name of the charity out and replace it with any other charity and it all sounds the same.

In a successful appeal, the story and key messages are authentic and fit with what the donor knows about the charity and its work. 

Unsuccessful appeals make it difficult for the donor to respond. You might be smiling now but go and have a look at your charity’s response forms.

Are they cluttered or easy to use?
Do they contain clear instructions about how the donor should fill in the form?
What is the font size?
Can an older donor read it quickly without reaching for their specs?

Unsuccessful appeals are boring and unengaging. They contain plenty of Dull and unemotional copy peppered with an abundance of statements about the charity’s programmes and processes.

These appeals or emails are not likely to touch the donors’ heart. Neither do cluttered pages filled with long paragraphs, uninteresting photos, or weak invitations to give.