By James D’AmbrosioJamesProfile1Twitter

As nonprofits prepare for the giving season — the majority of appeals are sent from October through December — there’s two questions we should ask: 1) Are people reading these communications? 2) If so, can they grasp the main point(s) in less than 30 seconds? Since an average response rate is about 1 percent, it’s important to quickly draw readers in and hold their interest. This takes on added significance in an era where people’s attention spans have become shorter due to a daily barrage of messages  — Internet, social media, e-mail, texts, instant messaging, etc. Below are some ideas that can improve  the chances your appeal will be read.


1) WRITE TIGHTLY: Be sparing with words. After completing the letter, review it for additional edits, determining what could be omitted without detracting from the core message. Unnecessary details? Repetition? Wordy? Edit with a sharp eye.

2) FORMAT & DESIGN: Several things can be done to boost appearance: Set off new paragraphs with a bold subhead; include a pull-quote; selectively use bold, italics and underlining to emphasize key points; incorporate a photo illustrating your good deeds. The goal is to make the letter stand out visually. A well-designed letter is a quick, easy read.

3) USING EMOTION: Including an emotional element can work, but don’t overdo it. You don’t want to paint such a dire picture that readers feel the problem is hopeless. You might provide a paragraph describing a specific person/population in need, centered and italicized. Then describe how your organization is helping mitigate such problems and that donations are needed to continue providing  assistance.

4) CONSIDER A QUOTE: Is there a well-known person/celebrity that thinks you’re great? Reach out to them and ask. If that’s not possible, you can choose a quote from a famous/well-known person that syncs with your mission and blends with the letter’s tone. My favorite source is Quote Garden, a site providing thousands of quotes categorized into many aspects of life.

5) ADD COLOR: If resources permit, use a second color consistent with your logo and branding materials. If this is not an option, use varying shades of black — 25, 50 and 75 percent — to create a stronger visual.

6) STATISTICS: If you have a high percentage of revenue going directly to programs and services — 90 percent or better — feature it prominently in the upper right-hand corner of the page, where the reader’s eye is usually first drawn.

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