Blog | Feb 1, 2012 | 4 Comments

[the rich are different]

Based on some very savvy advice from a wealthy supporter of a local nonprofit, I’ve dramatically changed my ideas about how to write fundraising appeals for major gifts ($10,000 and over).

Focus more on impact than inspiration.

A while ago, in [blood, sweat, and tears: writing a successful fundraising appeal], I wrote about charity case statements. I talked about struggling to find the right balance between head and heart, or “the right combination of hard facts and raw emotion.” This week, I’m tasked with revising the statements I was working on at the time. I’m untangling a very knotty thread of comments and revisions that are more than a year old. And the question I have to ask myself is, “Why didn’t these work?”

Philanthropy is more of an investment. 

I typically like to put a lot of emotion and even spirituality (when appropriate) into my fundraising appeals. But appealing to the wealthier segments of our population requires less drama and more focus on results. They are making an investment in the community, in the future, in solving social problems. They are also successfu people who feel they have earned the right to be consulted about solutions–not just handed a pen to write their check.

Here is some wise advice from a major donor.

I was originally told to show an urgent need and beg for large gifts because there was no other funding source. Instead, I should have emphasized the proven solution and invited donors to partner with the nonprofit in building a stronger community together. Here’s how our donor/advisor put it:

What bothers me the most is that it is written solely from [the nonprofit’s] point of view and as if the critical service gaps are solely your problem.  As the draft states at the bottom of page 2, “we have to fill these gaps with private funds because there is no alternative.”   I view this statement as very negative – rather than presenting these needs as a challenge to the community and inviting the leading individuals, corporations and foundations to join with the agency to make the community a better place, you simply state the need for funds.  This is NOT a compelling way of inviting potential donors to participate.
How much stronger this case might be if you framed these needs as OPPORTUNITIES  – obstacles that need to be overcome.   Meeting these needs would result in a better and more just  community.  You MUST INVITE the leaders – individuals, corporations and foundations – to JOIN WITH [the nonprofit] in a common effort to address these problems.  Further, you should include some special OPPORTUNITIES FOR RECOGNITION in each project that might stimulate private gifts.
The packages in themselves are good.  You’ve just got to show it as a bigger, community problem rather than just the money you’d like to have. I think this refocusing could make a huge difference in the success of the project and in the enthusiasm we generate.

(He didn’t review my original version of the statement but a version that did preserve some key prose.)

Based on this advice, I rewrote several case statements. And guess what?

They were shorter, clearer, and I liked them better–which surprised me, because I really like own my emotional copy. But there you have it. I learned a valuable lesson this week.

What kind of messages appeal to you as a donor?





Author: Claire Wagner

I'm a seasoned freelance writer/editor and an enthusiastic community manager. I'm passionate about developing and sharing good content.


Uncommon, common sense here Claire! Now that you spell it out it seems as obvious as using the light switch to illuminate a room. It seems everything I’m seeing that resonates with me nowadays is simplified, focused, and more about making a real contribution than kumbaya. I like!!


Love this Claire! just shared it with a non profit I help as a service provider and board member. Really great advice!


Margaret (Peggy) Herrman


Great, interesting stuff!

You’d enjoy this book by Robert Cialdini, his classic “Influence”:

Highly relevant to fund-raising and many other aspects of, well, life.


Claire Wagner Reply:

Gordon, thanks! I had heard of this book a while ago and did nothing! It is on my wish list. I am going to finish the biography of Obama’s mother – fascinating – and then Devil in the White City for fun. Then this will be next. Really appreciate the link.


Gordon Smith


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