Translating a cause you care about into compelling words for a fundraising appeal can be a challenge. We can have all kinds of hang-ups about our writing, judgments about its quality, and whether or not we’re a good writer, to begin with. All of these things can get in the way of you actually writing the fundraising appeal that you need to write in order to raise money.
In case it’s any consolation, I’ve been professionally copywriting for over a decade at this point in my career and I still have a relationship to writing that I wouldn’t always describe as smooth. But this far into my career, I understand my process enough that I accept it and don’t fight it (as much). Prior to writing a fundraising appeal, I allow myself to do my typical mental acrobatics of feeling like I’m not going to come up with anything good to say or that the appeal will be a complete flop. I allow myself to catastrophize while knowing that I’m eventually going to start writing and it will likely be fine.
These days I also lean heavily on the baby steps of my process for writing a great fundraising appeal. I take it one step at a time to get to the final product, which I find much less daunting than if I were to sit down and think I’ve got to write a series of 5 emails for this campaign. That’s a one-way ticket to overwhelm.
In this article, I’m going to break down my guide to writing a great fundraising appeal even if you doubt your writing skills. This process is designed to help you take small yet strategic steps to writing a great fundraising appeal.
Step 1: Develop a Vision by Creating a Fundraising Appeal Brief
Want to know my pro-trick for feeling less overwhelmed by writing fundraising appeals? I create a roadmap for every fundraising appeal I write so that I know exactly what needs to be said. That roadmap is called a fundraising appeal brief.
I talk about briefs all the time. I will probably talk about them till the end of my career. They are so important because briefs allow you to get high level clarity on what is going to happen in your fundraising appeal. And if you’re working with the team on an approval process, it gets everyone on the same page right from the start.
When I build a fundraising appeal brief, there are some specific elements that I include. I’ll give you an example with a fundraising email.
I start by getting a big picture things like the send date, the universe and targeting. I also think about the context in which I’m sending this email. Is it part of a campaign or something stand alone? If I’m writing in the context of a campaign where there are multiple emails, what is the campaign’s key message, and will I cover the main message or an angle of it in the email? I also think about what kind of story I’m going to tell in the appeal and make some notes for the story direction.
In the brief, I also like to map out five elements that I know I’ll cover in the appeal, which are:
- Core problem
- Compelling reason to give
Going through this process might seem time consuming, but it actually helps you get a head start on organizing some of your ideas for writing. Once you get into the point where you want to start writing, you have some real direction and clarity on what it is you need to write about.
More resources on briefs and organizing your appeals before you write:
Step 2: Outline Your Fundraising Appeal
Now you’ve got a brief put together for your fundraising appeal, we can get to outlining the appeal itself.
In this step of the process, I take the information I’ve put in the brief and build it into an outline. I prefer to create outlines because in my experience it helps expedite the writing process. I think about my outline points as mile marks on the way to the final destination (aka the ask). These are the compelling points that I want to communicate in order to make my call to action as compelling as possible.
At a high level, an outline can help you see the major points of your argument for giving. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to see whether or not you’re constructing a strong argument long before you get to the editing phase.
Struggling to figure out your outline points? Read this article on how to create key messaging points for fundraising.
Step 3: Write Your Fundraising Appeal Without Editing
Get your keyboard ready because it’s finally time to write! The key part of this step is that you’re going to write without editing. I tweeted this reminder for myself recently as it’s a habit I found myself slipping back into. Honestly, there is nothing that slows down the writing process more than trying to simultaneously write and edit.
Writing without real-time editing what you write can be a challenge. Sometimes I will write things or see things in my copy and think, “oh my god, that’s terrible. It needs to get edited right away!” But it doesn’t. I need to write the terrible things, the really crappy things and just get it all out and worry about editing later.
When I sit down to write, I look at the outline I created in Step 2. What I want to do is thread the needle between my outlined points to create a smooth and strong argument for giving. I will ask myself what I can say to connect two points? The benefit of approaching writing this way is that, again, it breaks down what can be a large task into small pieces. It’s small bites of copywriting that I can do that feels way less daunting than just sitting down and thinking I have to write a five to seven hundred word email.
Really feel stuck with writing? Try talking it out and record yourself! I do this about 50% of the time. I record a voice memo and transcribe it using Sonix. You can use this link to get 30 minutes of audio transcribed for free.
Step 4: Edit, Edit, Edit
I tell my students in The Storytelling Non-Profit Master Class all the time that the magic of copywriting and of storytelling happens in the editing.
Here’s the thing — editing takes time. Sometimes it takes more time than writing the first draft. Plus, I like to give myself a day or two between writing and editing so I can come back to the piece with fresh eyes. All of this means that you need to give yourself extra time on your project timeline. Don’t have a timeline for your appeal or campaign? This will help you build one.
I often joke with my students that if they saw my first drafts of appeals, they might wonder why I ever get hired to write. But that’s kind of the point. Rarely are first drafts good. The goal of your writing process shouldn’t be to hit a homerun on the first draft. It never happens for me. And that’s why editing matters.
When I edit my first drafts, there are usually a couple of sentences or phrases that really get it right. They are pieces of copy I know I’ll key. From there, I’m trying to edit for clarity, persuasiveness and flow.
Sometimes that means killing off sentences or paragraphs that I’ve written that just don’t work. Sometimes, it means combining things. Sometimes it means thinking about a better way to characterize something or a different word choice. It’s a tedious process, but time will allow you to finesse your fundraising appeal.
Let’s Get Writing Your Fundraising Appeal
My goal with this article was to help you see that writing a great fundraising appeal doesn’t have to be daunting or overly complicated. I’ve broken it down step-by-step to help you get the job done.
- Start with the basic information you need to communicate and organize it in a brief
- Outline your fundraising appeal so you can clearly see your key points
- Write your appeal using your outline without editing
- Dedicate some time to editing your appeal
I hope this process will make writing your next fundraising appeal a little easier.