How to Add an Emotional Hook to Your Year-End Appeal Letter

We all talk about the need for a visual and emotional “hook” in our fundraising letters.

Never, ever, forget the emotional hook in your appeal letter!

But it’s really hard to pull off.

What you want to do is create a visual metaphor or a story that portrays your message. My buddy direct mail guru Mail Warwick calls the story or metaphor:  the “dynamite marketing concept.”

It’s something really compelling about the campaign that catches people’s attention and motivates them to learn more about it and eventually to respond.

Here’s what not to do:

Mal shared his perspective:

“The problem is that nonprofit folks typically think what they need to do in their letters is to tell their donors all about the great work they are doing.

“They like to talk about the specifics of their work, the programs and projects they have in place, and then they think the donors will come running.”

But we really have to step back and get into the mind of the donor.

We have to determine which aspects of the work we’re doing would really appeal to the donor’s fundamental values and beliefs and what benefits that would provide.

This is very different from starting out an appeal letter:

This sad little boy can break a donor's heart. That's a good thing.

“for 20 years the xxx organization has lovingly served xxxx group of people in our community.” (yawn)

Instead start your letter with a story.

Just like the way lots of newspaper articles begin.

Perhaps it goes like this:

Johnny Smith woke up Monday morning, hungry again.”

Wow, doesn’t that strike you in a completely different way?

It creates a visual narrative that draws the reader in.

You want to keep reading don’t you?

Starting with a story is an amazing technique.

You could go on to say that Johnny lives right here in our community, and his single mother could not find work.

You could talk about how many nights a week he goes to bed hungry.

Or perhaps how he stuffs his empty backback with cafeteria food at school because he knows there is no food at home.

As you read this, you are forming pictures in your mind.

The story is generating an emotional feeling in your soft heart (I hope.)

Pretty soon, you start to really care about little Johnny.

You are imagining what it must be like to have to sneak food out of the cafeteria so you can have something to eat over the weekend.

This picture tells a story with genuine emotional appeal.

And you might be getting angry that this is happening right here in your community.

Once you are having feelings about Johnny and his situation, you are far more prone to take action and make a gift.

Remember this important axiom:

Logic leads to conclusions.

Emotion leads to action.

Think about all the rabble-rouser politicians out there – people who can stir up a crowd and incite action.

They don’t do it with logic.

Instead they do it with emotion.

Blatant emotion.

BOTTOM LINE: THIS is the way to appeal to your donors’ hearts.

And you’d be surprised at the result.

If you want some help with your year-end appeal letter – to make it so smooth, compelling, alive, and action-oriented that it raises more money than you ever thought possible, then join our August INSIDER Master Classes on how to create a killer appeal letter. I’ve got Tom Ahern, Harvey Mckinnon and myself showing you the way to elicit more gifts from your donors. Find out more about the INSIDERS schedule here. Join us!


If you want some personal expert help drafting your appeal letter, I can help you. Sign up for a personal session and I’ll give you a full critique, edit and suggestions on how to make it far more compelling to your donors. (It’s on a discount until August 4.) Join me!

Get personal help from me here.