Where we get our swords and severed heads...and how you can help!

That’s the subject line of a recent fundraising email I received from the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA. It definitely piqued my interest. I couldn’t wait to see what was inside. Here's what I found:

Fundraising-Photo of the ACS Props Master

Click image to read the full fundraising appeal.

I read and I donated. So did a lot of other people.

Mini Fundraising Case Study:

The American Shakespeare Center

I read and I donated. So did a lot of other people.

“We raised a total of $4,000—well, $3,957.00 to be precise—in less than a week,” explains the Center’s Development Director Danielle Hoffman. “Twenty-six percent of the gifts were from individuals who had never contributed to the ASC before—which is the goal of every microcampaign I organize, from the scholarship fund to the Band Candy fundraiser—to give current fans but non-donors an avenue, a specific, exciting cause to support.”

The digital appeal was delivered via email blast to about 30,000 subscribers, with some follow up on Facebook. The response overall was great, garnering positive comments on the campaign’s creativity:

The email headline was so fabulous, and the accompanying story so good, we feel the props program should get our props!

What a well-done appeal about the props room arrived in my inbox. Thanks for sharing the photos, prop examples, and stories.

Even a news story! 

The microcampaign got ASC halfway to its goal of $8,000, the estimated cost for a year's worth of rent). “Well over half the gifts we received came in the day the campaign went out,” Hoffman notes. “In the end I'm really happy with the response. Our patrons learned something new and felt more connected to the inner workings of the Playhouse, and we have several thousand in the bank ready for when we identify the right space for [Properties Master] Chris!”

Speaking of Chris, the thank-you letter was from him. It opened with the donation confirmation necessary to serve as a receipt and with news of the campaign’s success. Then Chris told us he was already looking at possible locations for the expanded shop and was hoping to see us in the audience this season. Short, to the point, effective and personal!

How to Write a Fundraising Letter

So why did this fundraising letter work?

The clever headline didn’t hurt, of course, but we can’t always achieve that and for some appeals and audiences, we simply shouldn’t try. So leaving that out of the equation, here are the other reasons this piece was successful--plus a few tips for how to write an appeal letter of your own:

  1. Voice: The tone throughout was upbeat and engaging, making the case for the need in a conversational tone that felt personal and wasn’t whiny. One example: And when you find yourself recoiling from the eye-gouging scene in King Lear...you'll know who to thank! The tone is right for this organization and topic, because props are fun and creative. To Do: Select a voice that's appropriate for the topic and organization, and that your audience will want to hear.
  2. Organization: The top of the email was short, leading quickly to the call to action: Click this button and check "Dedicate to the new Props Space" ...and read on! Below that was a short story on the props operation with strategically placed photos and donation buttons. The actual donation process was fast and easy. The progression through the entire experience from the headline to the thank-you letter directly from the props master was gratifying. To Do: Organize your copy and campaign to build momentum in each piece and throughout the entire process.
  3. Details: The keen ACS' keen focus on the properties room and the man who runs it really pulled readers in, informing as well as asking. The email copy drove me to click for more information with useful tidbits like: From spaceship pilot swivel chairs, to ancient texts, to headless corpses, Chris Moneymaker, the ASC Properties Master, has made it all - and in a space the size of a closet, no less! The feature gave me enough additional data—explanations and anecdotes—about Chris and his work to validate my decision to click through and to spur me to complete the donation form. To Do: Include details that matter to your audience. When we're being asked for money, we want to know why you need it/how it will be used and we want to trust that you'll be a good steward of our donation. Too many appeals overload us with details—sort of a kitchen sink approach figuring something might stick. It rarely does.
  4. Purpose: The call to action at each phase was crystal clear. Using a mix of DONATE buttons and great copy, like: We wanted to tell you more about Chris and invite you to join us in celebrating his work. Help us get him out of the basement and into his own space! To Do: Include multiple calls to action that explain the action and enable it.
  5. Photos: The photo of Chris in the crowded property room added visual proof and made the pitch more personal. They also fed into the universal love of “behind the scenes” stories. Additional pictures of props in action and in the props space continued the momentum. To Do: Choose an evocative photo as your dominant graphic, then sprinkle other images throughout to break up the copy, show how/why the money be used, and to appeal to people who are skimming, not reading.

Fundraising-Props from the American Shakespeare Center

The next time you're writing a fundraising letter, put these traits to use for better results. Good luck!