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Knowing Your Audience: Solicitation Letters & Emails

I remember writing what I thought was one of the most beautiful and compelling direct mail letters to former parents of a private school. I wrote about the new iPads that we purchased for the kindergarten classes and the cool new robot kits that the middle school students were using in their STEM classes. I illustrated how cool it was to see the kids using these new tools and how it will help them become the future scientists of tomorrow.

Then I showed my masterpiece to a trusted past parent who sent both of her children to the school and who I could always count on for her opinions. Her response smacked me right across the face.

“This is great for these kids, but so what.”

SO WHAT? What do you mean, SO WHAT? This is cool and innovative stuff.

She went on to remind me that I wasn’t thinking about the audience we were trying to reach. Science and technology might be interesting to some of these alumni parents, but most of their children are either in college or beyond. They aren’t thinking about iPads and science kits.

But they would find joy and good memories in a story about the perennial Kindergarten play where every student had a part. Or maybe the annual holiday program that brought tears to even the most stoic of dads. Or the legendary tale of the talent show performance gone sideways.

It was a good reminder that as philanthropy professionals, just because we think we have the right content and we think we are telling the right story, we can always take a step back and ensure that we are speaking to our audience. Here are a couple of prompts that you might find helpful:

  1. Write down who we are trying to reach. Literally: Alumni, alumni parents, users of your service, or ticket buyers, or lapsed donors, etc.

  2. Think about making a couple of phone calls to donors for inspiration.

  3. Determine the intended goal or outcome for your message. Is it to make a gift, to renew their gift, to become a first-time donor?

  4. Let a member of your audience read the first draft.

  5. Remember that shorter is often better. The best solicitations are a page or less.

As we march ahead through a new philanthropic landscape, messaging is even more critical. More and more solicitation emails are flooding our inboxes and social media channels. How will you ensure that you are speaking to your audience in a clear and concise way that compels them to support you?

John Mainella


Cape Fletcher Associates

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