What’s In My Mailbox | Your fundraising “appeal” from a donor’s perspective

July 31, 2019


Imagine it for a moment… 

Your organization’s fundraising appeal lands in your donor’s (or prospective donor’s) mailbox. She’s had a busy day and she’s looking forward to kicking back and putting her feet up. You have but a few short moments to get her attention (I always envision my prospect sorting their mail over the trash). How will you pique her curiosity? What kind of story will you share about what her support makes possible?

What follows is a cautionary tale about a fundraising appeal gone bad that landed in my mailbox…

A few days ago, a small purple envelope arrived in the mail. Any attempt at triggering my curiosity was promptly eliminated by the nonprofit indicia and the organization’s logo printed on the envelope (Note: particularly with card mailings, use a nonprofit stamp or first-class postage. Consider hand-addressing the envelopes or using a lasered handwriting font).

Back story: Despite the fact that I’ve taken classes and enrolled my daughters in classes for going on twenty years, I’ve never been compelled to donate.  Why? Although the classes are wonderful and have kept me returning for more, the prices at my local art center are higher – much higher – than the norm. And yet I was surprised to recently learn that my local art center actually has a number of programs for underprivileged children. That right there is something that could create an emotionally compelling case for support for an art center situated in an affluent area.

But back to this appeal…

Inside the envelope was a small, tri-fold card. “Together…” it read, “We’re creating something incredible!”

“What?” I dug through the tiny envelope and scoured the rest of the card, looking for an explanation. What kind of incredible are we creating?

”Help us meet our goal of $115k.” Um, okay. For what? What will meeting the goal actually do? The card gave me no indication and I am not a mind reader.

There was no reply envelope enclosed.

What do you want your donor to do next? Given the sheer number of senior citizens I’ve seen taking classes at the center, I would venture to say that they still receive more than their fair share of donations through the mail. Kindly provide them with a vehicle to return with their check inside.

And don’t even get me started on this bizarrely high dollar ask string, which I’m encountering more and more frequently. If I made a gift — and remember here that a compelling case for support has not been made — it would be a newbie gift and more in the realm of $25-50. But $250? Doubtful. Highly doubtful. But what is clear — abundantly clear — is that this organization does not segment their donor database.

It’s fairly common for arts-based organizations to want to use their art or create a piece of art to use as an ask. And it can be done successfully. I’ve seen it done well when it’s connected to an emotionally compelling story that puts the donor in the picture. 

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