Being able to raise money by writing to your supporters has always been important. But this year with COVID-19 causing the cancellation of many fundraising events, connecting with your donors—and asking them to give—through written correspondence is even more vital than ever.

But, writing a letter that will move people to open their wallets isn’t easy. So how do you ensure your message is effective? Easy, give your words UPDOS!

Don’t worry, you won’t need any hairspray for this kind of updo.

UPDOS is the acronym I use to remember all the important ingredients of an effective fundraising appeal. I even made the super cute graphic above of a dog updo to help me remember.

So what makes up UPDOS?

Well, let’s start with the first letter.

U, the first letter in our acronym stands for urgency.

The goal here is to move your reader to take action immediately after they read your message. Having urgency in your message is the difference between your reader donating to your cause or putting your letter in their “do later” pile and promptly forgetting about it.

Why does your organization need money sooner rather than later? What will happen if you don’t receive funds soon enough? Share that with your donors.

Next up we have P, which stands for problem.

You need to give your reader a problem to solve, otherwise, why are you writing to them? People who donate to charities want to do good, they want to help! Bring them in and give them a problem they can solve.

Make sure the problem in your message isn’t too wicked! Your problem needs to be something a donor can solve. For example, solving the problem of animal abuse is a massive goal that people have been working on for decades and still haven’t solved. If you ask your donor to fix that, they will feel helpless. But, they can help make sure their city’s humane society has an animal cruelty tip hotline.

The middle letter here is D, and there’s a reason this letter is in the center of our acronym. D stands for donor-focused as the donors should be at the center of your message.

This is the hardest part for most organizations, but it makes the biggest difference!

You and I both know that most times the donor isn’t the one directly doing the work. So why should you give them credit for your hard work?

Well because you’re writing a message to your donors, if you want them to be interested in it, you need to make it about them. Everyone likes to hear nice things about themselves. For the purpose of your appeals, take your organization out of the spotlight, and give the credit to your donors.

Next is O, which stands for outcome.

Be clear on what will (or won’t) happen when a donor gives to your organization.

Paint the picture for your reader on what will happen as soon as they send you their money. Don’t make them use their imagination.

Will elementary students now be able to dig into a warm lunch? Will homeless dogs know love for the first time? Will your organization have to shut down or reduce services if you don’t have enough funds? Share the outcome of your reader’s gift with them.

Last but not least we have S, which stands for simple.

Life is crazy and confusing enough as it is. Make the process of giving to your organization as easy as possible for your donor.

Write your message at a 6th-grade reading level—or below! Don’t make your readers work to understand your message. Throw out the grammar rules your teachers taught you in school. Instead, write like you are having a conversation with your reader. Read your message aloud. Does it seem natural as you speak it, or did you stumble? Did the words flow, or seem awkward?

Sometimes I even start by dictating to ensure my writing has a colloquial feel. Then I go back and clean it up so it makes sense to read.

That’s it. Those are the 5 things your fundraising appeals must have to be successful. If you ensure you always give your writing UPDOS, you’ll find your message connecting with more readers and leading to more donations!

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