Do your emails align with your organization’s brand strategy? Do they send a clear, consistent message about the value of your work and the difference donors can make by supporting you?
Too frequently the emails nonprofits send to would-be donors seem to come out of left field. They take a tone that is out of sync with its overall communications in an overzealous attempt to get attention. Here’s how to ensure your next email solicitation is both on brand and instantly compelling to would be donors:
1. Know your message. A clear, compelling, succinct set of key messages, used repeatedly by everyone you work and volunteer with, is a must. Use these messages over and over in written, spoken, and electronic communications. They should form the foundation of each and every email solicitation you send.
Don’t worry that you’re boring readers by being repetitious. Research shows that it takes someone 7-14 times to hear a message before it really sticks. If you don’t have an elevator pitch, or what Mission Minded calls a Belief Message, stop what you’re doing and write one. Get lots of input from colleagues, but don’t write by committee.
2. Tell stories. A story about one person impacted by your work will impress donors more than the statistics on the number of people you’ve helped.
Last year 750 kids attended our camp. Of those, 80% reported feeling better about themselves than when they arrived and 68% had more success in school the following year. Your gift will help us get more kids to camp than ever.
Last year Lila came to our camp and it changed her life. Just ask her. When she first arrived she was too shy to make eye contact with the other kids and spent her days alone. One day some well-meaning campers coaxed her to join them in a game of charades, but she became so upset she started crying and begged counselors to let her go back to her cabin.
As Counselor Kelly watched Lila hurry through the woods to her bunk, she had an idea. If Lila wouldn’t come to camp Kelly would bring camp to her. She caught up with Lila and connected with her using coaching skills effective for working with children who have suffered childhood trauma.
She promised Lila she could stay in her cabin the whole time if that’s what she wanted to do. And she promised to stay with her and make it fun, if that was okay with Lila. It was.
After several days of quiet times together Kelly asked Lila if she would be comfortable inviting another girl into their sacred space. She was.
Kayla was happy to be part of helping Lila get comfortable. After some days of the threesome talking and playing quiet games together, Kelly asked if it would be okay to invite another girl in so they could all play Four Square. It was.
Slowly Lila felt comfortable enough to make friends and have fun with the other campers. By the end of the summer she even had a small role in a skit performed by campers for their counselors.
If you ask Lila today she’ll look you in the eye and tell you that our camp made her summer great and prepared her for her best school year yet.
There are many more boys and girls like Lila out there who can be healed through summer camp with your generosity.
Even though the story is longer than the first example, it draws the reader in and leaves him with a much richer understanding of the work. The story of Lila tells us everything we need to know about why this camp matters and what a donor’s money makes possible. Compare its power to the three figures in the first example and you’ll clearly see why you should be investing in capturing stories, not statistics, for your next email appeal.
3. Know your brand. If your nonprofit knows what reputation it’s striving to have in the minds of the people who matter most to your success, then you know your brand.
Hint: your brand is not your mission statement and it’s not your logo. It’s a single big idea that pops into your stakeholders’ minds when they think about you. Get clear on what you want that idea to be and then marshal all of your fundraising, communication, and programmatic resources to get there.
If you’re not clear on your brand, your email solicitations are as likely to degrade your reputation as build it. Nonprofits with a clear brand strategy know that every single communication they send, formal and informal, must support that strategy. They use discipline and rigor when creating email solicitations rather than simply relying on a catchy “hook” for their email that may or may not support the bigger idea for which they want to be known.
Click here to read more about how to create the right brand strategy for your organization.
Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.
See all posts by Jennie Winton