I wrote this post six years ago and it contains relevant information today.  Whether you send emails to ask for financial support, volunteers, or to encourage action and engagement, apply the six lessons at the end of this post to ensure what you write is something people actually want to read.
-Jennie Winton

At Mission Minded we’re in the business of helping our clients choose the words and phrases to capture the heart and intellect of their most important supporters.

So when I read a recent email solicitation sent to my personal email account from the executive director of My New Red Shoes I was reading it with a critical eye. Would it be clear and not boring? Would it tell me exactly what to do? How much of it could I read before deleting it?

At first glance I noticed how long it was. And how I would have recommended it have shorter paragraphs and more white space. But I started it anyway.

I didn’t know the name of the organization, but I recognized the name of the executive director, Jennifer Yeagley. She’d never written me before so I took notice of that.

What I read stopped me in my tracks (that I was in the aisle of an airplane from which people were deplaning should tell you how lost I became in Jennifer’s words. That I was with my demanding three year-old daughter should tell you I was completely riveted.)

Friends, thank you for indulging this mass email. I’m so passionate about My New Red Shoes and wanted to share with all of you. I hope we get the chance to touch base one-on-one soon.

Right off the bat Jennifer acknowledge that mass emails aren’t very appealing and told me about a passion that drove her to forge ahead. As the reader, so did I. Jennifer went on:

There are more than 20,000 homeless children in the Bay Area – that’s right, 20,000. In this extremely affluent area where people own not just million dollar homes, but also second homes in the mountains or at the beach; where the starting purchase price of a studio apartment is no less than half a mil; where my gym parking lot is so full of Mercedes and Rovers that it looks like a car show (and y’all know I drive a Honda); where you can’t find a Wal-Mart for 50 miles but you might pass a Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus and Prada boutique on your regular way home.

What I love about this paragraph (and why I kept reading) is that she took a statistic that could lack context for most readers and gave it visual appeal. I could see the homeless children in near proximity to the designer stores. Most importantly, Jennifer reminded me of something I already believed – it is wrong that this should be so. It’s wrong that children should be homeless when the Bay Area could afford to create a different reality.

Jennifer had me nodding along, so she had the chance to elaborate on the problem. And she didn’t pussyfoot around. She told it like it is:

In this extremely affluent area, there are homeless children going to school with kids driving new BMWs. There are homeless kids who hear their classmates talk about their private jet vacations to Aspen while they’re wondering where their family will sleep that night. There are homeless children whose friends have home theaters while they have no place to call home. And these children want nothing more than to just blend in.

They wear their shame on their faces and on their feet when they go to school in shoes with holes in them. They wear their shame on their backs in too-small clothes, things picked out of bins at the Salvation Army, worn-through uniforms that they have to make last another year. That’s tough on kids anywhere. But can you imagine how that feels for kids here?

Homeless children already have so many “adult sized” worries. My New Red Shoes gives them and their families’ one less thing to worry about by covering the basic necessities of shoes and clothing for school. This summer, we want to clothe 4,000 children. With your help, we can fulfill the wishes of children like six year-old Edgar, who lives in a family shelter with his parents.

Now there was no stopping. Jennifer had intrigued me by tapping into my values (it’s wrong that any child should be homeless.) Then she painted a picture of the problem, as it really exists. She made me see the problem so clearly with her visual description of the wealth disparity that my emotions kicked in. And she told me about a lofty goal of clothing children — and helped me see myself as part of reaching that goal.

Emotions captured me about the macro level problem. But 4,000 children is not a number I could really wrap my mind around. So Jennifer told me a story to bring it all home. Well, she let one of the 4,000 Bay Area homeless children tell it, in his own (exact) words:

“Hi. My name is Edgar. I have six years old. Last year, I got sick. My doctor say I have leukemia. They make me take lots of pills and shots. It makes my mother cry a lot. They buy me gifts when my daddy gets money from work. He works but we don’t get much money. My mom has to take me to the hospital so she cannot work. I have to start school late because the leukemia made me leave school. I get to go to school next year if I get better. I want new clothes because it will be my first time in school with other kids. I want to have shoes that have the lights. I want a shirt with Lighting McQueen like my friend. Thank you for the help to get shoes and stuff.”

Could you have deleted Jennifer’s email after reading Edgar’s account of his life? I couldn’t.

Next Jennifer made it easy for me to turn my feelings into meaningful actions. She spoke right to me as if we were having coffee together, not like she was addressing a large group of people with a mass email:

For the price of what you paid for lunch today, you can make a difference in the life of a homeless child. Please consider making a donation to fulfill My New Red Shoes’ wish to help 4,000 homeless children start the school year confident and ready to learn. I’ll make sure to update you on how your gift made a difference.

Visit www.mynewredshoes.org.

Or contact me directly. I’m happy to tell you more!

If your nonprofit emails prospective donors to ask for support, take a few lessons from My New Red Shoes:

  1. Write with a colloquial one-on-one tone
  2. Show how much passion you have for the mission of your organization
  3. Be explicit about the problem that exists that your organization is addressing in a unique way
  4. Tell a story that demonstrates both the problem that exists and the tangible benefit a donor can have in solving it
  5. Show how easy and meaningful the donor’s gift will be
  6. Ask for a donation like you were asking your best friend

Have an email solicitation you’re particularly proud of? Share it with us!


About the Author

Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded and a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding and positioning nonprofit organizations.
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