The Best Fundraising Appeal Opening Lines

The Best Fundraising Appeal Opening Lines

“Johnny didn’t go to school last week because something was wrong.  His mom, Susan, couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but her mother’s instinct told her that he needed help.  Thankfully she brought Johnny into the clinic before it was too late.”

Don’t you want to know what was wrong with Johnny?  Don’t you want to hear how Johnny and Susan’s story ends?

What if your appeal letter started with a story like this?  Your donors would be much more likely to read it and respond.  As fundraisers we are good storytellers, we have to be, its how we convey need and impact.  But when we write appeals, we tend to bury these compelling stories in the middle of the letter.  And unfortunately, that is the section that very few people actually read.

Even worse, we revert to business writing 101 and often start our appeals with “Here at ABC Charity, we help individuals with …”  I can almost see your donors’ eyes glaze over as the appeal is dropped into the trash can.  We need to capture attention from the start, and what better way to do that than with a captivating and compelling story.

Here are a few other sample opening lines that lead right into great fundraising stories …

  • Just the other day, Marci walked into our facility with a big problem.
  • Last week, I was walking down the hall and stumbled upon something magical.  Six year old LaShonda was sitting outside her classroom huddled over something.

You’ll notice that each of these stories is about one person.  And that one person is referenced by their first name.  This is a key characteristic of fundraising stories.  By talking about just one person and using their name, you allow your donors to put themselves into that person’s shoes.  It is no longer a giant problem that their donation can’t change, it is a problem that one person has and their donation can make a huge difference toward fixing it.

Small changes like this can yield huge results for your fundraising appeals.  We recently heard from someone that attended our “How to Make Sure Your Next Fundraising Appeal Outperforms Your Last One” webinar in the fall.  She put the tips into action with her year end appeal in late 2017.  She couldn’t believe it, but the performance of her appeal actually doubled year over year by following the research-based best practices that we shared.  It’s not rocket science, but it takes some research and effort.  We do our best to simplify that process for you.  It’s what we love to do!

What’s your favorite fundraising appeal opening line? Join this discussion in our private Facebook group, the Fundraising Fish Fry.  We’d love to hear your tip!

For more fundraising appeal tips, check out our Free Resource Library.

Make the Donor the Hero of Your Organization’s Story


This post is a shout out to my fundraising writing mentor, Tom Ahern.  Tom specializes in applying the discoveries of psychology and neuroscience to the day-to-day business of inspiring and retaining donors.

About three years ago, I heard Tom say “your donors don’t care about your campaign goal” and it was transformative for me.  I had been putting campaign goals in my appeal letters for years (e.g. “We’re only $15,000 away from our goal, with your help we can meet it before our fiscal year ends!”).  But research has shown that donors don’t really care about our fundraising goals — especially prospective donors.  Yes, helping an organization reach their goal might be nice, but the goal doesn’t belong to the donor so in the end they just really don’t care about it that much.

But Tom has found that it goes a bit further than just your goals that donors don’t care that much about.  They don’t care all that much about organizational accomplishments either.  Things like be re-accredited, finalizing a new strategic plan or hiring a great new staff member seem like big reportable news stories, but in the end donors aren’t that interested.  Thanks for crushing our dreams, Tom!

So what do donors care about?  They care about themselves.  Not in a selfish way, but in how they help your organization succeed.  They want to know what difference their support makes.  The impact their donation has on your ability to fulfill your mission.

Another great line and tactic by Tom is to “make the donor the hero of your organization’s story.”  This is actually pretty easy to do, you just use the word “you” a ton throughout your correspondence.  Lines like “With your support …” and “Because of you  …” are great ways to say what happened, but to clearly state that it’s the donor that made it happen.  They are the hero of this story, not you or your organization.  Without them, none of it would be possible.

So take a look at your last appeal letter and see how you did.  When I review letters for clients, about 50% of them still talk about the campaign goal and 80% of them don’t have enough “yous” in the text.  How does your letter stack up?

Ban Window Envelopes from Your Fundraising


Window envelopes and fundraising just don’t mix.  Period.

The key to fundraising is to build relationships.  Window envelopes don’t build relationships.  Window envelopes tell people that they have a bill to pay or someone is trying to sell them something that they probably don’t want.

No place is this more true than with gift acknowledgments and thank you letters.  If we had the time, we’d hand address these and make them as personal as possible.  Window envelopes take them in the exact opposite direction.  Even if you are seeking payment on a pledge or sending an acquisition appeal, window envelopes are not a good option.

Because of the philanthropic community’s focus on nonprofit efficiency and low expense ratios, the temptation to use window envelopes is always there.  They are a less expensive option since they save the cost of printing addresses on the envelope and any hand matching that would need to be done between the letter and the envelope.  Most print reps will suggest this to you as a way of cutting costs.  However, you need to say “NO” — the connotation is not worth the cost savings.

While this is all backed up by research and window envelopes do decrease donor response, that’s really not the key factor here.  What’s important is how you make your donors feel.  Window envelopes should come from your donor’s water company, not from a cause that they are passionate about.  And if they are giving despite your behavior/treatment, it certainly won’t inspire them to give more.

So, isn’t it time to remove window envelopes from your office?  That’s actually a fun Friday afternoon activity … go find all of the window envelopes and hide/pitch/burn them!  I don’t even like nonprofit accounting departments using them … it’s an organizational culture kind of thing.  It’s one time where the efficiency gained is not worth the price you end up paying.