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Published on Dec 09

How to work with a professional designer

fundraising strategy work with a professional designer

Even if you know how to use InDesign and Photoshop, do you really have the time it takes to do a professional job laying out your fundraising appeal letter or newsletter or brochure?

                One strategy is to outsource that work to a graphic designer who can not only do a terrific job, but get it done faster than you could. Many nonprofits, including small nonprofits, actually find it very cost effective to use a graphic designer.

                However, you have to know how to work with a designer to make the process successful.

                First, know what your goals are. Who is your audience? What action do you want your audience to take?

                For example, your goal might be to enroll teens in your organization’s program. But who is your audience—the teens or their parents? An edgy design might draw in the teens that your nonprofit serves, but actually turn off their parents.

                Also let the designer know if there is a mood you are trying to convey. Do you want to make the reader feel happy? Eager? Concerned? Generous?

                How do you want your organization to be perceived? As helpful? Cutting edge? Traditional?

                If you have decided on the specifications of your project, share them with your designer. The design she creates will be very different if it’s produced in black only, or in two colors, or in four (full) colors. The size, color and type of paper are also critical. The colors that your organization uses will need to be taken into account. Give her the PMS numbers if you have them, or give her samples that show your colors. You also need to let your designer know whether you have artwork in hand, whether photos need to be shot, or whether you want the designer to use stock photos or artwork. If you haven’t planned the specs yet, your designer can help you.

                Notice that we started by talking about the goals of the project, and we’re just now starting to talk about how the piece will look.

                Many people get it backwards. They get a picture in their head of how something should look, then hire a designer. I promise you, that is an exercise in frustration for all parties concerned. Few people are articulate enough to describe how the finished product should look, and no designers I know can read minds. At the end of the day, everyone is disappointed.

                Instead, guide the designer.

                Find examples of pieces that you like. If you’re doing a newsletter, it would be great to find examples of newsletters by other organizations similar to yours. But don’t limit yourself. Also gather magazines, brochures, ads, even cereal boxes—anything that has the look you’re going for.

                The next step is important: Try to analyze your collection and see what it is about the pieces that seems to work. Is it the amount of white space? The type face? The use of color? If you can’t quite put your finger on what exactly is appealing, describe it as best you can. Perhaps what you like is that your examples seem light and airy. That steers him in one direction. If you just hand him a pile of samples, he may interpret them as being modern or as being pastel, and go off in a direction that wasn’t what you wanted.

                When your designer delivers a proof, think back to the beginning of your process. Does this piece appeal to your audience? Does it make the reader feel the emotions you want them to feel? Does it portray your organization in the way you want your audience to perceive it? Is the piece easy to read? Does the design amplify the message of the text? Will it make your audience take action?

                In short—Does it work?

                As the piece goes to other people in your organization for your approval process, make it clear to each person that you’re asking them to check whether the piece works, not whether they “like” it. Ask them for “corrections” rather than for “changes.” That will elicit the kind of feedback that is helpful to the designer and make your design successful.  



To learn more about how cost effective it can be to use a professional designer for your next project, contact us at  at 1 (888) 244‑4013 or [email protected].


Fundraising Assets helps busy fundraising professionals raise more money, save valuable time and reduce costs. We offer consulting, writing, design and production services for direct mail and e-mail fundraising, social networking and more.

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Published on Nov 21

Is your ‘thank you’ as good as your ‘please’?

thank donors fundraising

Whew! Your year-end appeal is at the printer or in the mail.

But you can’t sit back and relax unless your thank you letter is every bit as good as your appeal letter. The thank you letter is an underutilized tool when it comes to building a relationship with donors.

Here are some ways to improve your thank you letters:

Emotion: Relationships with donors are rational, but remember, they’re emotional as well. That emotional element is often what’s missing from thank you letters (and too often from appeal letters as well).

Your supporters may offer many different reasons for why they give, but in fact, all their reasons boil down to this: They give because it makes them feel good.

And if your thank you letter makes them feel good, they will want to give again.

If you list a bunch of statistics in a cold letter, you’re not giving your donors what they need. You’re not engaging them on that emotional level. You’re not allowing them to bask in the warm glow of knowing they helped someone. You must reach them on an emotional level, and the best way to do that is to tell a story of someone whose life is better because of the donor’s gift.

Tell a story: When you write an appeal letter, you’re careful to include an emotional story of a service recipient that illustrates your need for donations. Why? It’s a powerful way to deliver a  message about the good work you do.

Use that same technique in your thank you letter— tell your donor a new story about how someone’s life was changed because of their gift.

Yes, it’s a lot of work. But think of it this way: You owe it to your donors. They’re fulfilling a need of your organization by donating money. What do they need in return? They need to feel good about their donation.

Don’t forget—The better they feel about helping your organization, the more likely they are to donate again.

Form: The form of the thank you should change based on the significance of the gift. Thank yous for  larger gifts should be more personal. They should include a hand-written note and use a hand-addressed envelope and first-class mail.

They’re not the only ones who need extra attention. New donors should get something special to help move them to the all-important second gift. You might include a fact sheet or create a new donor package.

Another group that needs extra attention is the group of donors who increased their gift from the prior gift. They should get a special thank you letter geared to encouraging them to want to increase again.

Tone: Too often, thank you letters are formal to the point of being perfunctory and standoffish. Instead, they should be warm and effusive. You should go over the top when you thank your donor.

Timeliness: For the thank you letter to have any value, it must be in the hands of the donor fast!

Making your thank you letter as good as your appeal letter takes a lot of work, but it can go a long way in retaining donors, and it can help encourage donors to increase their gift. It’s a good place to invest your time.

If you’re already spread too thin, this may be a good project to outsource. Contact us at 1-888-244-4013 or [email protected] to see how cost effective our services can be.

What tips on thank you letters can you share with our readers?

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Published on Nov 06

Essential tips for effective development writing

writing for fundraisingThe Association of Fundraising Professionals Western New York Chapter recently held an interesting panel discussion called “Put Your Write Foot Forward: Essential Tips for Effective Development Writing.”


The panelists were Michael R. Barone, director of Public Relations for Fredonia State College; Cynthia G. Leavell, associate director of Development Communications for the University at Buffalo, and Jill A. Spira, director of Niagara County Community College Foundation, Inc.


Here are some of the tips they shared:


Tell a story: In addition to writing stories about those who receive your services, you might write a profile on a donor. The important thing is to tell why they gave their gift.


PS: Using a PS at the end of a fundraising appeal letter is very effective. People skim letters and may read the first paragraph and jump down to the bottom of the page.


Catch typos: Spell check doesn’t catch everything. Print out your text and read it out loud. Better yet, find someone else to read it, too. It’s better to have another pair of eyes look at it.


Branding: No matter who your audience is, make sure everything going out has the same look and feel.


Everybody wants to back a winner: It’s one thing to show your donors how important their gifts are, but don’t let them believe your institution’s finances are on shaky ground. Your donors want to know that you are successful.


Print vs. electronic: In general, older people like to touch and feel a newsletter or appeal letter. In general, younger people like electronic communications. But that’s not universal, and preferences change. It’s best to ask people how they’d like you to communicate with them. Remember, if you want to send an e-newsletter, you need to gather e-mail addresses.


Share the load: If you’re starting a new project, such as a Facebook page for alumni, realize that you’re probably going to need people from outside your office to help you.


Check your database: You may have many different volunteers helping you input information into your donor database. You may have mistakes or inconsistencies. Remember, what goes in is what comes out, so check your list before you do a mailing.


Online giving: Don’t expect everyone to mail you a check in response to a direct mail appeal. Make sure it’s easy for people to give online, too.


Thanks yous: A thank you letter is as important as an appeal letter. Personalize it, and include a handwritten note when possible.


Jill Spira recommends these helpful writing sites:

The Purdue University Online Writing Lab

 More than 130 handouts (Web pages)including handouts on conducting research, constructing paragraphs, eliminating wordiness and learning about grammar, as well as anything and everything about writing for specific purposes.


A Synopsis of William Strunk Jr.’s The Elements of Style




What tips can you share with our readers?

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Published on Oct 28

Running late with your year-end appeal? Try these strategies

deadline nears for fundraising appeal letters

A typical production schedule for a fundraising appeal letter looks something like this:

  • 2-3 weeks for the creative work (interview, writing, design, proofing and approval process)
  • 2 weeks for production (print, fold, insert, address and mail)
  • Up to 2 weeks for mail delivery

And don’t forget there are holidays in there, too. If you want people to receive your letter at the beginning of December, and you haven’t started, you’re running late.

Don’t despair. And don’t just throw something together, pop it in the mail and hope for the best. If it’s important to you to raise as much money as possible, you need to not only get your fundraising appeal done—you need to get it done right.

The recession has placed many professionals in a Catch 22 situation. Because times are hard, the services your organization provides may be higher demand. Therefore, you need to raise more money so you can provide more services. Your donors may have been affected by the economy, so you need to do more just to reach the same level as last year. But because times are hard, staffing wasn’t increased this year, and you may have been stung by staffing cuts.

This is not the year to cut corners. You need your year-end appeal to be as effective as it can possibly be.

The solution  is to find a way to regain the labor force and the expertise you need.

  • First, look inside your organization for people to help you with your appeal letter. Perhaps you have a board member or volunteer who is a professional designer and could lay out your appeal letter faster and more skillfully than you could.
  • If you can’t find skilled help for your appeal letter, perhaps you can find people who could help with other projects. That would free up chunks of time for you to complete your year-end appeal.
  • If those strategies don’t work, hire outside experts on a per-project basis. The cost can be surprisingly affordable, and the increased donations you receive should more than cover the initial investment.  Many small organizations find it’s cost effective to outsource their appeal letters.

If you need help meeting the deadline for your year-end appeal, contact us today at 1-888-244-4013 to see how we can provide expert help at an affordable cost.

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Published on Oct 21

Writing rules you learned in fourth grade– that were wrong!

classroom 1Many, many times during my writing career, I have shown a draft to a client who informs me I have committed an error. The client is adamant that the text is incorrect because he remembers a certain rule from fourth grade.

While I am always grateful to any proofer who picks up an error before the piece is published, many times the text in question is actually correct!

The problem is that English is a very complicated language. There are lots of rules. The rules apply in some cases, but not others. There are often exceptions to the rule.

And sometimes it’s okay to break a rule.

You couldn’t learn all of that in fourth grade. But somehow those nuanced lessons from later grades weren’t remembered as clearly as the ones we learned when we were nine.

One more thing.

Sometimes the person learned a “rule” that was wrong.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples:

You must always use complete sentences. That’s an excellent rule. Using complete sentences with a subject and predicate helps convey complete thoughts.

However, sentence fragments can be useful in informal writing to change up the rhythm of the copy. (Yes, I view blog entries as informal writing. Newsletter articles and fundraising appeal letters are examples of informal writing, too.)
I used a sentence fragment in this entry: “One more thing.” I think it works here to signal to the reader that something different is coming.

For more reading on this topic, go to:

You must never end a sentence with a preposition. I’ve been “corrected” on this countless times, and you’ve probably heard it, too.

The weird thing is that this was never a rule for the English language.
Latin, however, has such a rule, and some people, feeling Latin was superior to English, tried to apply Latin rules to English. This was taught as a rule by curmudgeons for more than a century, and I think it may finally be fading out.

It was reported that Sir Winston Churchill, the great British political leader, scoffed at the so-called rule, saying, “That is the sort of thing up with which I will not put!” No matter who said it, that quote helps us remember that trying to apply this to English will only mangle our prose.

For more reading on this topic, go to:


Have you had clients or proofers “correct” text that was actually right? Please share!

Connie Oswald Stofko

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Published on Sep 28

Your donors use the Internet—Do you?


Nowadays, people will look up a phone number online rather than dragging out a paper telephone book. If you want to know more about a company that donates to you, you don’t call company headquarters; you look up the information online.

Your donors use the Internet as much as you do—maybe more! Yet many nonprofits today see social media, Internet marketing and online giving as a frill that they can’t afford, rather than as an essential component of their fundraising strategy.

Nine out of 10 nonprofit organizations said they don’t have successful online or Internet programs because they don’t have enough staff, according to a recent survey of 60 nonprofit organizations carried out by Convio, a nonprofit constituent relationship management software firm. Budget constraints and lack of online expertise were also cited.

The reality for most nonprofits today is having to make do with less, the report noted. The first step in getting the maximum results from the resources you have, you must have a plan and stick to it. “Not having a plan is planning to fail,” the report said.

The report also suggests that having the right people is just as important as having more people.

The diverse set of skills a nonprofit organization needs may not exist entirely in-house. An employee well-versed in managing the nonprofit’s Web site may not have the vision to develop the online strategy and marketing plan, they noted.

As a result, some organizations simply don’t do these important tasks. Other organizations solved their staffing problem by turning to contractors and consultants outside of their organization to provide these key online skills.

To read the entire report, which also addresses organizational structure, go to

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Published on Sep 20

Get extra mileage from your fundraising appeal letter


You’ve produced a great fundraising appeal letter. It tells an emotional story of someone who has been helped by your nonprofit organization. You’ve mailed the appeal letter out.

                But if you stop there, you’ve missed a free and easy way to get more readers— and possibly more donations.

                Simply post your appeal letter on your Web site.

                You could label the page “Success Stories” or “Your Donations at Work” or even “News.” On that page, you’ll type a headline or short summary of the story told in your appeal letter. Link that headline to another page that contains the full appeal letter or to a pdf of the appeal letter.

Every time you create a new appeal letter, add a new headline and link on your “Success Stories” page.  Always add the newest link at the top of your list.

                In addition to expanding the number of people who may read your fundraising appeal letter, this technique has other advantages:

  • Search engines, such as Google, rank your site higher the bigger it is and the more frequently you update it (among other factors). Adding fundraising appeal letters to your Web site presents another opportunity for you to update your site and add pages.
  • By posting a number of appeal letters about different kinds of individuals, you are able to show the range of the people you help. For example, you may want to show that you help adults as well as children, or single people as well as families, or people from different geographic locations or of different ethnicities. It’s much more powerful for a visitor to read stories and see photos of different individuals, rather than be told statistics about the kinds of people you help. It’s the old adage: Show, don’t tell.
  • People are impressed by quantity. When they see story after story of people you have helped, visitors to your site realize in a more visceral way that your nonprofit has helped many people. Again, show, don’t tell.


One more tip: Post your newsletters on your Web site, too!

Posted Under Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Published on Sep 14

The parts of an effective fundraising appeal letter

Pad of Paper & PenSince this is the time of year when professional fundraisers are preparing their fall and their end-of-year appeals, we thought we should go back to the basics and look at the parts of a good fundraising appeal letter.

Some people will read your letter straight through, but many others will skim and skip around the page. Construct your fundraising appeal letter with the components that your readers will notice:

  • Opening paragraph, closing paragraph and postscript. Many fundraisers forget to include a PS! Create strong, emotional paragraphs for these three key areas, and construct them so that they work together to form one cohesive message. (See example)
  • Upper right hand corner. This is a great place to position a quote, photo or other emotionally compelling material. (See example)
  • Captions or callout boxes. Again, make sure they appeal to the donor emotionally. (See example)
  • The “ask.” You must come right out and ask your reader for a donation!
  • Reply device. This might be a card that is separate from your appeal letter, but it’s a crucial part of your appeal package. Your letter is designed to move people to give, and the reply device must make it easy for them to give. Make sure it is clear and easy to understand. (See example.)

Posted Under Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Published on Sep 07

Labor Day and health care coverage for fundraisers

j0291844Since this is Labor Day, we turn our thoughts to the labor force of nonprofit organizations and one of the hottest issues in this country today: health care coverage.

                Before you read on, I should let you know that I don’t have any answers. I don’t know whose proposal is best. I don’t know whether the Canadian system is better than ours. I don’t even know if my partners at Fundraising Assets agree with my stand on the issue.

                Given that, here is what I do believe: We should figure out some way for all Americans to have affordable health coverage. That doesn’t seem like a bold statement to me, but I know people who vehemently disagree with me.

                So what are your experiences with health care coverage?  Does your organization offer health care coverage to its staff? Do you know of good ways for small employers to offer coverage? How about freelance or part-time workers—how can they get coverage? Please share.

Posted Under Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Published on Sep 01

New fundraising video misses the mark

Doctors Without Borders launched a short video to show in movie theaters in England. It’s trying to break new ground, but misses the mark.

The group (Médecins Sans Frontières as it is known elsewhere) said it decided to “make a deliberate move away from some traditional charity advertising which can tend to focus on images of starving children.”

The clip shows a desolate, war-ravaged home and the viewer can hear the pitiful sound of a child crying. “We have deliberately left the child nameless and not identified the country in order to protect his identity and to encourage viewers to realise that violence of this sort occurs beyond just the borders of a single country,” the group said on its site.

The video has a few written statements superimposed on the image of the house about the horrors that happened to the child’s family. The video is very emotional. Upsetting. Disturbing.

If that was the point of the video was to upset people, well done.

But the video ends with the statement, “We can’t operate without your help.” It sounds as if they want people to donate or take action in some way. That’s where this video misses the mark.

The few lines of text tell us very little about what Doctors Without Borders does. The first line tells us that the doctors are treating a five-year-old boy. The second line tells us his sisters were raped, and the third line tells us his parents were killed. The little boy is crying as doctors treat him, and crying at the end of the video.

His injuries, whatever they may be, seem minor in comparison to the devastation that has been inflicted on his personal world. There is nothing (as far as I can tell) that Doctors Without Borders can do to help his sisters, his dead parents, or the little boy now that he is an orphan.  If I give, what good will it do?

This is an example of a common mistake that fundraisers make. They tell the story of a service recipient, but they concentrate on the person’s problems while forgetting to explain how their organization helped the person overcome those problems.  I think people inside an organization are often too close to the situation. What they do everyday is obvious to them, but they forget it’s not obvious to the reader.

How your organization helps your clients should be the main part of every appeal message.

The Doctors Without Borders video protected the identity of the child and kept the location of the war zone general, which were two of its goals. It also had an emotional component. Unfortunately, it was off message.

What do you think?


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