What are you looking for?

A Story You Have To Read

Posted by on November 25th, 2013
Posted in Blog, Email Campaigns, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Copywriting, Nonprofit Fundraising   

If you’re like me, you get 20 – 40 emails a day that say you simply must read them. These emails range from scams to spam to promotions for things I don’t want or need.

I recently got an email whose artful copy motivated me to read on. (View the email online.) It didn’t start with a statement about how important the message was—instead, it intrigued me with the best practices of email marketing, storytelling, and visuals.

Here’s what you can learn from Alternatives in Action’s email fundraising campaign:

1. Use compelling photography. Research shows that photos of faces increase readership rates for just about everything. Use wide-angle photos and group shots at your peril. Alternatives in Action included a band of faces and then zeroed in on one smiling young boy. He was looking at me. I couldn’t look away.

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2. Write an interesting headline. Don’t start your solicitation with a traditional salutation or topic sentence. Dig right into the meat of the matter. Alternatives in Action’s email began:

“It was the right thing to do.”

Because the above was in quotations, I knew a person had spoken those words—probably the person looking at me from the photo. Since I already felt a connection with him, I wanted to know what the heck he was talking about. And it seemed juicy.

 3. Talk about the problem your organization solves. Don’t pussyfoot around. Say it clearly. The email from Alternatives in Action hooked me with “It was the right thing to do” and then went on to boldly state:

“There’s a leader inside every young person. Sometimes they just need a little help realizing it.”

This was a great second line because it suggested a problem, but not in a defeatist way that might have made me feel too weary to keep reading. It focused me in on a problem (kids need help to become their best selves because they don’t always know how) and provided hope for a solution. Bonus for Alternatives in Action: Since they were telling me about the problem, I had a hunch they were experts on the solution. The email asked me to help fund that solution—so it was especially important that they create urgency.

4. Tell a story. Only through storytelling can you show the impact of your organization’s work without sedating readers with facts, figures, pie charts, and statistics that won’t evoke their emotions or stick in their minds. A well-written story has the power to make me feel something. And feeling something is the first step in caring about your organization enough to donate to it. Stories are a credible and visual way to demonstrate your impact.

In the story in Alternatives in Action’s email, I learned about the transformation of the boy whose smiling face had already inspired emotion in me. I learned his name, Michael. The story was short, sweet, clear, and made no bones about Alternatives in Action’s having prompted the transformation.

5. Ask for a donation. If I’ve read the whole story, I’m showing some real interest in your work. So ask me for what you want: help in creating more positive stories like the one I just read. Because there was a specific goal of $25,000 in Alternatives in Action’s email, I felt like my donation would really count.

Are your email solicitations this good? Tell us how you did it.


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.

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