How to Craft a Compelling Call-to-Action for Fundraising Letters

“Donors don’t give to institutions. They invest in ideas and people in whom they believe.” – G. T. Smith

A lot of charitable organizations are surprisingly bad at soliciting donations. The biggest reason for this is that they don’t offer donors specific reasons to give. Instead, they invite donors to accept a clouded definition of their cause or simply ask for support in a general way.

We’ve all seen fundraising letters where the ask may be something like:

  • Will you help us do our work by sending a generous contribution?
  • Stand with us today in this important cause.
  • Please show your support for our work.
  • Join in our movement.

These abstract, non-specific asks are the weakest form of fundraising. And unfortunately, they’re common, leaving response rates and donor retention in real trouble for a lot of worthwhile organizations.

The reason weak calls-to-action like these prevail is because they used to work. Past generations of donors considered it their duty to give to a cause, which usually centered on a civic, religious, or moral obligation. People trusted institutions and so these types of non-specific calls-to-action were good enough.

But that was then and this is now. Today, duty-driven donors are fading away. They’re being replaced by cynical, strategic “investors” who give to change the world and express their values. These individuals expect the organization to do something specific with their money, and they expect to see definitive results. They want to picture the results and that can’t happen unless you put a specific proposition before them.

That is why the call-to-action is the foundation of a fundraising offer. Even if your copy is boring, your stories weak, and your design is cumbersome, as long as you have a clear call-to-action, there’s a chance you’ll still do okay in fundraising. But if your message doesn’t have a strong fundraising offer, even if you do all these other things superbly, your letter will fail.

Here are some characteristics of a strong fundraising call-to-action:

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John Torre

I reside in North Brunswick, NJ, with my wife, Lynn, and daughters Kasey, Jaclyn, and Shelly. We also have a 110 pound, lovable Rottie named Leo that keeps us on our toes! When we're not hard at work we enjoy spending weekends at our bungalow down the Jersey shore, or take extended trips to Walt Disney World as members of the Disney Vacation Club. For kicks, I draw on my dominant "right-brain" and play guitar in classic rock and blues bands, act for local plays and independent productions, and enjoy writing creative fiction. I'm a published author in short fiction and stage plays and a graduate of a local community college's Commercial Writer's Certificate Program. After graduating from the program I was selected as an instructor and taught "Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror" writing for 8 years. I enjoy many fine relationships I made with my students to this day.

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