Be Noticed - How to Make Your Camp's Appeal Letter Stand Out
Dan Kirsch, Mentor
The deluge is about to happen. No ark is going to save you from it.
As the High Holy Days come to an end, you can bet your mailbox will soon be flooded with appeal letters seeking donations from all kinds of organizations.
There's a reason why in this mobile, high text, friend-as-a-verb world of ours so much old-fashioned snail mail still fills up your mailbox - especially now through December 31.
Social media is important for sure, and e-mail and online appeals are growing in importance and can be effective if used strategically. But traditional appeal letters are still highly effective devices to communicate your camp's achievements and invite your readers to invest in even bigger things to come.
In the face of the coming deluge, how can you make your camp's appeal letter stand out for your readers and prompt them to act? Here are some tips:
"Dear Fred" beats "Dear Friend" every time. Think about how you feel when you read a "To Whom It May Concern" greeting, especially if you've been a donor in the past. Aren't you more likely to keep reading when t you feel the organization knows and appreciates you? Being personal also works at the bottom of the page where your letter should be signed by an actual person, preferably someone the reader knows.
(***This suggestion, like many on this list, is best supported through strong data management and best practices in technology. See "Be Techie" below for more.)
Remember, you're not writing a PhD dissertation. Use a friendly, warm tone. Don't worry much about the rules of formal writing. Tell your camp's story the same way you'd share it with a friend over coffee. Avoid fundraising jargon it's meaningless and potentially off-putting to readers. Test your toner by having someone read the letter aloud to you. Does it sound the way real people talk? The way you talk about camp?
You're unlike any other organization in your readers' lives. So why on earth would you want your fundraising appeals to look and sound like everyone else's? Instead, use your camp's unique advantages to make your appeal stand out. Do all you can to convey the look and feel of your camp.
You're trying to inspire action. The most effective way to do that is to evoke an emotional reaction to your camp story that triggers a positive response. Your camp creates extraordinary experiences and celebrates traditions both sacred and silly. Use your story - and perhaps a photo or other image - to transport your reader to that iconic place in camp where she can smell the scent of Havdalah spices mixed with pine trees. And if you doubt your ability to write such an evocative appeal, or just don't have the time, consider finding (and paying) someone who can.
Use exactly the number of words you need to tell your most compelling story. No more.
Don't try to finesse the "ask" so that it gets muddled and weakened. Be proud of your camp's accomplishments and your impact on young lives. Be unabashed about asking your readers who share that pride - and are grateful for camp's role in their lives - to act on those feelings by giving generously.
Ask for something specific tied to an actual dollar amount. Sponsor a magical day/week/session at camp for one kid. Buy challah and candles for a single or a session's worth of Shabbat services. Helping your reader to visualize the recipient and the result of his giving will produce far greater results than requesting a generic gift to the "Annual Fund."
Use deadlines to create urgency. Open ended invitations to give just don't generate the same response as those that prompt the reader to give NOW. The first day of camp. The last day to qualify for a matching grant. The end of the month or the tax year. The last day of Hanukah. The camp director's birthday. Be creative, be camp-y, but give your readers the sense that they - and you - will miss out on something if they don't act ASAP.
Make it as easy as possible for your readers to act. Remember using the mail to ask for a gift doesn't mean your readers will respond through the mail. If they want to go straight to your website to make a gift, make it clear how they can do that. And make sure it's easy to donate once they get to your site. For snail mail responders, make sure that the reply form can be filled in quickly and easily. If you have the tech capacity to fill in the info for them, all the better.
Extra tip: Lots of readers will ditch the appeal letter and hang onto the reply form and envelope. It's a good idea to use the reply form to echo some of your appeal's most inspiring words along and repeat the ask amount and a reminder of any incentives or deadlines.
Remember giving is a choice, not an obligation. Be sure to thank those who've given before and remind them of the impact of their support. And remember that your readers are incredibly busy and have mailboxes full of other requests from worthy organizations. Thank your readers for the time and attention they're giving to camp by considering your appeal.
P.S. I Love You
Use a P.S. If nothing else, your time-crunched readers will read the first sentence of your appeal, look to see who signed it, and read the P.S. Focus your writing time on the first line and the P.S. to convey the most inspirational morsels of your story and your letter will be a success.
High tech creates high touch. It's a wonderful paradox that using technology allows you to make your appeals more personal, friendly, camp-y, specific and grateful. Love your data, grow it and nurture it. Discover and leverage the power of your donor management system.
Imagine the impact of a generic request for Annual Fund support addressed to a "Dear Friend" highly personalized appeal. In the personal appeal you address the reader by name (maybe even her camp nickname). You reference memorable events and people from the years she was at camp and the bunk she lived in. You thank her for her last donation of $180 and remind her what that gift made possible. You point out that she has given to camp for 5 consecutive years and that her next gift will push her lifetime giving to camp over the $1,000 mark, placing her in exclusive company. You show your reader that you know her well, care about her history with camp, and appreciate her status as a donor. Is there any doubt that the personal letter will engender deeper commitment and inspire greater generosity? Technology, and a commitment to good data practices, will allow you to produce more personal appeals that speak directly to each individual reader.
The flood is coming. It always does. Follow these tips and watch for another flood - of donations - showing up in your mailbox this year.