Recently, I received the following in a direct-mail solicitation from an organization seeking my support:
In the past year, we have paired 300 kids with the mentors they need to be successful. Now we are calling on you to help us make sure it happens again....
Almost immediately, I asked myself, Is this the best way to start a solicitation? Does it convey anything remarkable? Am I really crucial to the organization’s impact equation? And what is the real "ask" here?
Clearly, what the organization wants is my support. It says so right there in the second sentence. But is it something I'm likely to give?
Beyond the appeal to emotions, whether someone gives or not tends to be driven by the simplest of equations: Is this worth stopping what I'm doing, grabbing my credit card, filling out the pledge form, putting a stamp on the envelope, and making a trip to the mailbox?
In too many instances, the answer to that question is "no." While the typical solicitation often includes language from an organization's mission and values statements, it rarely appeals to potential supporters with a unique and compelling proposition.
The solicitation is your opportunity to motivate potential supporters to make a difference. And it's their opportunity to do something to contribute to a cause they believe in. Through a combination of the right words and a well-calibrated appeal to the emotions, it should move them from indifference to action and beyond.
Here are a few examples of the kind of language that works well when presenting your "ask":
Think of it this way. We need to convince others, particularly potential supporters and those who may be interested in our work, that they have a real opportunity to make a difference, right now. Using language that uplifts and inspires, you need to make clear that their support will directly benefit someone in need. Consider this appeal from a nonprofit working to end homelessness:
Today you have an opportunity to make a real difference in the life of someone who needs your help. Your gift will give John a chance to get back on his feet…. Your gift means John’s wife and children will have a roof over their heads and a home where they can be a family again. It's not much, but it's everything to John and his family. Will you help?
The Girl Effect, a nonprofit organization focused on empowering girls to change the world, at one point had this call to action on its website:
This is the year to make girls impossible to ignore. Are You In?
When you read that – especially if you already believe in the power of girls to change the world – you can't help but feel excited about the organization and the work it is doing. This is the year to make girls impossible to ignore? Am I in? I am absolutely in.
"Here's your chance…"
When soliciting potential supporters, it's critical you grab their attention as quickly as possible. "Here's your chance" is a popular come-on that makes it clear to would-be supporters that their support, while always welcome, will do more good now than later. It's language designed to trigger their impulse to get involved and move them from inaction to action. Consider this from a recent solicitation from a wildlife conservation organization:
Here's your chance to save these magnificent animals…before it's too late…
Every once in a while, we need to be presented with an opportunity that gets us off the sofa and into the thick of things. As many of us know, it's all too easy to become complacent and indifferent, putting off to tomorrow what we should be doing today. In the world of donor solicitation, this happens more than you would think when organizations fail to provide potential supporters with a compelling reason to act on their passion and/or impulse – as well as a clear path forward.
Being mindful of these simple language and messaging tips can make a world of difference in whether your next solicitation will resonate with your targeted audience. At the end of the day, donors give because we provide them with an excellent reason to give. Remember that as you start to think about your next campaign.
Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and campaigns agency, and the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.