Effective Fundraising Appeals for Nonprofits: A Comprehensive Guide

Effective Fundraising Appeals for Nonprofits: A Comprehensive Guide

Craving a Mission: Impossible moment? How about this?

Your mission is to create effective fundraising appeals for your organization. If you fail, kids go hungry, blood goes uncollected and the homeless will remain so.

This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Jim.

No pressure in that. No sirree.

With so much on the line, crafting the right message is essential, whether you’re trying to:

  • Retain current donors
  • Attract new ones
  • Re-engage those who’ve fallen off

Here’s how to make each appeal type work for your organization.

Renewing donors

Retaining and growing existing donors should be the top priority. They’re as low-hanging as the fruit gets.

Since this audience already believes in you, all you need is an effective reminder of why they should keep supporting you.

But of course, you want to leave nothing to chance. To ensure maximum return, it’s important to:

  • Personalize: Use the donor’s name and mention their previous contributions. The more personal touchpoints the better, but make them genuine. Don’t drop in a name just to drop in a name.
  • Highlight impact: Share specific examples of how their donations have made a difference, and speak in terms of future impacts if they donate. Concrete outcomes resonate more than abstract goals.
  • Add urgency: Create urgency by setting a deadline or highlighting a matching gift opportunity.
  • Don’t waste time: Respect the recipient’s time. Remember that “time is money” works both ways: The more time they spend reading your appeal the more money it costs them, and the less time they have to spend reading your appeal and understanding what’s expected of them, the more money they’ll be willing to donate.

For example, a donor renewal letter might include this message:

“Dear [Donor’s Name],

Your generous support last year helped us provide 500 meals to homeless families – but your continued partnership is crucial. Please renew your gift by June 30 to help us reach an additional 25 families.”

New donors

Acquiring new donors is harder, but it’s how you grow. And for them to support you, you need to make a strong case.

Follow these tips for effective case-making:

  • Know your audience: Tailor your message to your potential donors’ interests and values. Do your audience research beforehand and combine it with previous lessons learned to segment your audience.
  • Compelling story: Share a powerful story that illustrates your mission. Just make sure the story aligns perfectly with the subject of the mailing. Don’t stick with an amazing story just because it’s amazing; make sure it furthers your cause.
  • Clear ask: We both know why you’re here. Stop dancing around the topic and come right out and ask for what you want. Specificity breeds trust and transparency.

Here’s an example of a message to include in a donor-acquisition appeal:

“If you dream of a world where every child has access to education, join us. A $50 gift can provide school supplies for a year. Let’s make a difference together!”

Lapsed donors

Lapsed donors represent untapped (or sporadically tapped) potential. Converting them into active donors requires understanding why they stopped giving and acknowledging those reasons.

  • Express gratitude: Thank them for their past support. Acknowledge it’s good to have them on your side. Appreciate them.
  • Update progress: Share what your organization has achieved recently, and your plans for the future. Show them the ongoing impact of past gifts.
  • Invite back: Encourage them to re-up with a special invitation or incentive like matching funds or exclusive updates.

A lapsed-donor message could include something like:

“Dear [Donor’s Name],

We miss you! Your past donations have helped us build a new community center and so much more. Please donate today and help us continue this important work.”

Welcomes and thank-yous

Welcoming new donors and thanking all donors are key steps to building strong relationships. Creating a memorable customer experience never stops – especially for non-profits. That includes:

  • A warm welcome: Acknowledge new donors promptly with a heartfelt welcome message. Introduce them to your organization and its mission. Make it as personal as possible, down to a handwritten note from your executive director.
  • A sincere thank-you: Always thank your donors, no matter the size of their gift. Remember that while many give from their abundance, some give from their lack of abundance. A personalized thank-you reinforces a donor’s decision and makes them feel valued.

An effective welcome message might incorporate something like:

“Welcome to the [Nonprofit Name] family, [Donor’s Name]! We’re honored and gratified by your support. We’re excited to have you on board and can’t wait to start changing the world together.”

And a thank-you message might include this:

“Thank you, [Donor’s Name], for donating $100 so we can provide clean water to communities in need. We’re making a difference in the world … together.”


Acknowledging donations promptly and properly is another big key to donor satisfaction and retention. Don’t let grass grow under your feet; you literally can’t afford to.

  • Promptness: Send acknowledgements as soon as possible after receiving a donation. This shows you value their contribution.
  • Details: Include specifics about the donation and how it’ll be used. Be direct. Focus more on the benefit rather than the means to that benefit.
  • Personal Touch: Where possible, add a handwritten note or a personal call. Avoid the temptation to give the personal touch only to large donations. As noted fundraiser Bruce Springsteen once sang, “from small things big things one day come.”

Here’s a sample portion of an acknowledgement letter to cover this:

“Dear [Donor’s Name],

Thanks so much for your generous [$ amount] gift on [date]. Your donation will go directly to helping children learn to read and write. We deeply appreciate your commitment to our cause.”

The importance of SPAF

Effective fundraising appeals are a mix of personalization, storytelling and clear calls to action.

If that sounds beyond your skill level or pay grade, don’t be afraid to use ChatGPT to jump-start the process. Just remember that ChatGPT will give you an appeal that sounds like everyone else’s appeal, so change it up to make it authentic and impactful.

Finally, remember to incorporate SPAF into all your appeals.

What’s SPAF? It’s an unwieldy acronym that stands for:

  • Storytelling: Share real stories of people or communities benefiting from your work. Not every story has to be Oscar-worthy, but they all should be relatable.
  • Personalization: Use the donor’s name, mention their past contributions, and tailor the message to their interests. Remember that direct mail is just trying to scale a one-on-one interaction.
  • Action / Appeal: Be clear and specific about what you want the donor to do – donating, volunteering, or attending an event. Make it so easy that the donor doesn’t even to think about it.
  • Follow-up:  Thank those who did and provide updates on the impact of their donation. For those who didn’t, offer another opportunity to contribute.

A fundraising appeal with SPAF will create more engaging, effective messages that resonate with your audience and foster relationships.

This is a relationship business, after all, and you have to evaluate any direct-mail appeal in terms of its relationship-building ability.

Crafting a powerful fundraising appeal is a lot, but it’s not Mission: Impossible.

If you have questions, contact us. That’s what we’re here for.


By Jim Felhofer – 6/19/24

Copyright by JHL Digital Direct. All rights reserved.

Copyright by JHL Digital Direct. All rights reserved.