James sifted the peer-reviewed papers of social scientists throughout the English-speaking world.
She uncovered 10 tips for forceful fundraising letters:
- Always tell one beneficiary's story, both in your letters and follow-up materials—especially your thank-you notes.
- Include at least one "sad-faced" photo of the beneficiary. Avoid group shots, because they'll trigger "compassion fatigue."
- Describe the consequence of inaction. When St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital told the story of a baby it treated for leukemia, donors were informed 70% of the other babies with the disease would die without their help.
- Ask for money. And do it all year.
- Partner with a foundation, corporation or major donor to offer a matching gift. It need not be dollar-for-dollar, but it must be at least $10 to work.
- Leverage social pressure. Spur donors by saying “people like you gave $_____."
- Test different forms of social pressure. Donors respond well when their identities (gender, race, Zip Code, etc.) match.
- Spend more on letters for new donors, less on letters for repeat donors.
- Send "signals of trustworthiness." There are many. Longevity. Prominent board members' names. Grants received. Affiliations with other trusted organizations. Audited financials. The breakout of your administrative and fundraising costs. Lists of your past achievements. Testimonials. Media mentions. And charity watchdog ratings.
- Talk up your awesomeness when writing to big donors; don't when writing to others.