Fundraising Letters: Where To Find Creative Ideas For Your Appeals

How do you make your fundraising letters creative and fresh year after year when your needs don't change all that much? I am not talking about new initiatives. I'm talking about the programs that you run year after year. The membership drive that you run year after year. The funds that you must raise to cover administrative expenses and salaries year after year. How can you request funds for these things over time without boring your donors into apathy? Learn a lesson from Jack Foster.

Jack Foster spent 35 years working in creative departments of advertising agencies in the United States. One of his challenges was doing the advertising for Smokey Bear. Here's how he describes his predicament:

The first thing the writers and art directors had to do every year was come up with a basic poster.

The rules for the poster never varied: It had to be a certain shape and size; it had to feature Smokey; it had to be simple enough to grasp at a glance, clear enough for even a dunce to understand, and (if it had words) brief enough to be read in three or four seconds.

The mission of the poster never varied either: It had to convince people to be careful with fire.

In other words, every year we had to come up with the same thing only different.

And we did. Indeed, every year we came up with 20 of 30 different ideas for posters. Every year. For over 20 years. Over 500 posters, all featuring Smokey and all trying to do the same thing and not a one of them the same.

I faced similar challenges when I worked at advertising agencies as a copywriter, and as a freelance copywriter for direct response agencies that create fundraising letters for international non-profits. The work was tough, but I discovered that writers and art directors could indeed create original fundraising appeals year after year for the same clients who needed money for the same things.

Here are some lessons I learned along the way, tips that will help you present your case for support to your donors in creative ways over time. The secret is knowing where to look for ideas. Here's where I look.

Challenges in the field

One place to look for original ideas is the field. If your charity is involved with child welfare, then your "field" may be the homes of your foster parents. If you are a small but international humanitarian organization, then the "field" for you is the towns and villages where you operate overseas. As you sit down to create a brand new appeal letter, look to your field and ask yourself what challenges you are facing. These challenges can often be translated into a compelling ask. Let me give you an example.

Doctors Without Borders is an international aid organization that sends volunteer doctors and nurses to places where no medical infrastructure exists, usually because of war or natural disasters. Since they never know where the next tsunami or civil war will strike, they need to have sufficient funds on hand at all times so they can respond quickly to a humanitarian crisis anywhere in the world. This means their fundraising letters must ask for funds for no particular emergency, but for emergencies in general. A tough challenge.

Doctors Without Borders has met this challenge year after year in creative ways. Here is just one. They realized that they often sent their volunteers into emergency situations that were created by water. Either there was a flood or there was a drought. Either there was too much water or not enough. In a brilliant move, Doctors Without Borders crafted an original fundraising package that presented this global need. They told their story in such a way that the need was obviously great, though not necessarily looming.

Donors who received the appeal understood that Doctors Without Borders needed funds on hand to meet the challenge of floods or droughts at anytime. But they also understood that their gift to the organization might be used to help victims of a cholera epidemic, or people displaced by a civil war. By looking to a challenge faced in the field, Doctors Without Borders created a memorable fundraising letter campaign that did nothing more than raise money for their general fund in a novel way.

Your frontline staff

Another source of creative ideas for fundraising letters is your staff, particularly those at the front lines of your ministry. The men and women who carry out your work face to face with the public have dozens of stories to tell about the needs that your organization meets and the people it helps. Many of these needs can be translated into an appeal, not for a special project, but a request for general funds to meet a given need. Here's an example.

In talking with the staff of a ministry that works with inmates in Canada's prisons, I discovered that most inmates have a problem with anger. Their tempers often land them in prison. And, while inside, they grow even more angry. As you can imagine, a compelling theme for an appeal letter would be inmate anger, and how a donor's gift supplies the funds that this prison ministry needs to help inmates conquer their anger and lead productive lives upon release.

Milestones

Is your organization celebrating a 10th or 100th anniversary? Then you have the ingredients for a compelling appeal, provided you link past successes with your plans for the coming months and years. Have you just served your millionth meal? Or planted 500,000 trees as of this week? Translate your milestones into compelling proof that your organization needs your donors' continued support, then put your proof on paper in the form of a persuasive fundraising package theme and mail it.

Recent successes

Similar to milestones are recent successes. One organization I wrote for won the Nobel Peace Prize. That became a theme for one mailing. Another organization I know of retired their debt early, and announced the fact with an appeal for funds.

The key to keeping your fundraising letters engaging and a joy to read with each passing year is to present your work in new ways. As Foster put it, "to come up with the same thing only different." And the best places to look for those creative ideas are your clients, volunteers and staff, and the challenges they face each day in carrying out your mission.

About the author
Alan Sharpe is a professional fundraising letter writer who helps non-profits raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors using creative fundraising letters. Learn more about his services, view free sample fundraising letters, and sign up for free weekly tips like this at http://www.fundraisingletter s.org.

© 2005 Sharpe Copy Inc. You may reprint this article online and in print provided the links remain live and the content remains unaltered (including the "About the author" message).

Web Copy ? How Much is Enough?

These days, there's widespread acceptance that a website is an integral part of the ... Read More

Super Verbs Really Move Your Copy

Run or hustle? Eat or devour? Move or scurry? You can boost the power of... Read More

Five Sections of Your Copy Guaranteed To Get Read

Only about 20% of your copy is going to get read. The rest will simply... Read More

5 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Copy

1. Isolation technique It doesn't matter how good your copy is if they don't... Read More

Quotations as Expressions in Life

Quotations are expressions, usually in the spoken form or in literature, which... Read More

Copywriting 101: Exclamation Point, Friend or Foe?

My name is Ann and I'm a grammar geek. There, it's out and I'm relieved.... Read More

Hooks, Lines & Sinkers

Hands up if the title to this article made you think that you'd strayed into... Read More

Deciding What Voice to Use in Copy

You have to choose a character or an angle that you, the copywriter plays. Copy... Read More

How to Write Carrot-Wielding Copy!

A significant reason behind websites that fail is the lack of an effective direct response... Read More

The Secret to Drilling Down Deep in Your Target Market

Here's another drill ripped out of the Field Guide for my Red Hot Copywriting Bootcamp.... Read More

Sowing the Seeds of Opportunity: How to Multiply Your Freelance (Writing) Work

You can turn your $200 fee to write a press release into $2,000 to carry... Read More

Tech-writers: A Necessary Evil

New to tech-writing, or thinking about starting? The key to success is recognising that tech-writers... Read More

Knowing Copywriting Basics - How To Get Ahead In Your Copy Writing Business

In order to get ahead in your copy writing business, you need to know copywriting... Read More

Subtle Emotion - The Key To Copy That Works

Say the word "emotion" to a man, and he'll immediately jump out of his seat... Read More

Ten Eye Popping, Jaw Dropping Ad Copy Secrets

In order to make more sales and get more profits for your business, fist of... Read More

How to Hold Peoples Interest throughout those Long Copy Sales Letters

People tend to read your ads and sales letters in 2 different ways:1. Word For... Read More

Buy My Book for $27 and Ill Give You Bonuses Worth a Gazillion Dollars!

Subhead..How to bundle for valuable results without devaluing your productI almost clicked. Really, I did.The... Read More

Calls-To-Action: Making Them Fit Makes All the Difference

It was going so well, so what happened? Many copywriters get off to a wonderful... Read More

Discover Your Creativity

You have a choice. Do you want to be constructive and positive in a unique... Read More

How To Get Started With A Career In Copywriting

Careers in copywriting are booming. Could it be that the new and ever growing market... Read More

7 Essential Tips for Reviewing and Approving Copy

Nothing can turn strong copy into a 97-pound weakling faster than a flawed review process.... Read More

How to Start and Sustain a Career as a Freelance Writer

Have you wondered how you can make a career writing books or... Read More

How To Find Freelance Copywriting Jobs

Your goal is to land a few nice, secure freelance copywriting jobs, but how do... Read More

13 Steps to a Slippery Slope Online Sales Letter

Many of the solo professionals whom I coach are people who offer services. They're coaches,... Read More

Copywriting Makeover: Making An Emotional Connection - Part 2 of 2

In part one of this article series we began looking at the Cruise Vacation Center... Read More

Hey, Client, This Is Me! Sell With Your Writing Voice

In a crowded market, clients will be seeking personality as they read what you've written... Read More

Fundraising Letters: Where To Find Creative Ideas For Your Appeals

How do you make your fundraising letters creative and fresh year after year when your... Read More

Killer Business Headline Templates - So How Do You Write Killer Headlines in Minutes? You Cheat!

According to Branding and Advertising legend, David Ogilvy: 5 times as many people read the... Read More

The Biggest Mistake Copywriters Make

Most of the sales pieces people ask me to rewrite seem to offer great products... Read More

Internet Marketing 102: Copy What Works

Internet Marketing- Forget the experts, latest software program or even that book that someone is... Read More

Freelance Writers: Double Your Income

Freelance writers are a strange group of people when it comes to running their own... Read More

Advice From Successful Freelancers: Starting & Maintaining A Freelancer Career

For the e-book, Advice from Successful Freelancers: How They Built Their Careers & How You... Read More

How To Really Connect With Your Customer In Your Copywriting

One of the least talked-about areas in copywriting education is voice. This is probably because... Read More

How To Personalize Your Headlines For Increased Profits!

Personalizing your headlines to your target audience can significantly improve your sales response. You can... Read More

Can 97% of Netpreneurs be Wrong?

Why Some People's Ads Almost Always Make MoneyDiscover the Master Copywriter's Little-Known Secret of Locking... Read More

Revealed: The $12,500 Copywriting Formula

Have you heard of Brian Keith Voiles? Probably not, but if you have eyes you've... Read More

Professional Copywriting Services - How to Provide Your Own

Just because you're running a small business doesn't mean you have to run an amateur... Read More

Professional Writing: Six Great Reasons to Hire a Writer

Most people can write. Some can even write well. But only a few individuals can... Read More

3 Copywriting Tips - How To Edit For Mass Appeal!

Web copy that's intended to sell or generate leads needs to quickly reach out and... Read More

Website Promotion: 10 Secret Motivational Triggers That Make People Buy

Unless you know the secret motivational secrets that make people buy, your efforts in website... Read More

Power Keys To Writing Power-Packed Marketing Copy

In order to maximize your sales efforts and fully seize your greatest profit potential, these... Read More

10 Things You Should Expect From Your IT Copywriter

Anyone who's ever tried marketing IT products or services knows that it's... Read More

Copywriting: Secrets of a Freelancer

Lately, I've been getting emails from other copywriters who ask me questions like "What's your... Read More

Kick-Starting Body Copy

Several correspondents to our newsletter, AdBriefing, say that they are having trouble writing body copy... Read More

More Insider Secrets to Great Copywriting - Judging Your Target Market

This week we're going to reinforce the training that Recruits of my Red Hot Copywriting... Read More

Copywriting Tricks: Nailing the Voice

Professional copywriters are well-familiar with what's commonly referred to as "the voice." What is this... Read More

Advice for Copywriters: How to Win the Freelance Bidding War

Are you a freelance copywriter working from home? If so, you've probably been on the... Read More

The Second Most Important Element of Your Ad... after the Headline

Hi {FIRSTNAME Friend},Next time you're flicking through your local newspaper, take a good hard look... Read More

7 Easy Tips on How to Improve Your Sales Letter Instantly

Would you like to get more sales from your online sales letter? Here are 7... Read More

How To Make A Career Out Of Copyediting And Proofreading

Do you possess the qualities of a good proof reader? Are you good with details,... Read More