On appealing year end appeals & being pitch-erific | Beth's Blog

On appealing year end appeals & being pitch-erific


Note from Beth: November 27th  is “Giving Tuesday,” and marks the busy season for nonprofits, especially fundraisers and marketers.     It is also a time for us to reflect for a moment, say thanks, give back, and donate to our favorite charities.    So, over the next few weeks,  I will highlighting useful social fundraising resources and clever social good causes as well as featuring several guest posts.

Are you understanding how social media disrupts your donors decision-making?  Katya Andresen recently summarized an article in the SSIR talks about the shift from a linear marketing pyramid to a non-linear funnel in the nonprofit sector.   The idea of a “decision-making journey” versus a “funnel” has been percolating since 2009 in the for-profit sector and attracted attention of nonprofit marketers about about a year ago, but Katya explains what it means for fundraisers.     While the shape of the decision-making journey might be different, the key metrics is still the same – conversion from awareness, engagement to activity.

This time of year, while social media managers may be engaging and empowering supporters,  nonprofit fundraisers are preparing their fundraising pitches.  Erica Mills agreed to share a guest post with some tips filled with practical tips.     But also think about how social media impacts how your fundraising pitches are received.

On appealing year end appeals & being pitch-erific – guest post by Erica Mills

‘Tis the season. The holiday season. The eggnog season. And, for nonprofits, the mad-dash-to-the-finish-as-you-get-that-year-end-appeal-out-before-you-collapse season.

With many organizations bringing in upwards of 50% of their donations in the last three months of the year, and 30% of those donations coming in the last week of December, it’s go time.

One way to make the most of the last few weeks of 2012 is to consume a steady stream of eggnog and candy canes. Another is to avoid pitchfalls.

Pitchfalls are the common mistakes people stumble into when making a pitch. By “pitch”, I mean opening the door to deeper engagement with your organization, whether through a quick conversation with someone who is learning about you for the first time or the ask in a year-end appeal letter to a donor who has supported you for a long-time.

Those initial conversations tend to be awkward and creepy. Creepy, awkward conversations encourage people to beeline for the bar, not to learn more about your mission. That’s why I wrote Pitchfalls: why bad pitches happen to good people. In it, I go over the top five pitchfalls, why they happen and how to fix them in those early getting-to-know-you conversations.

We stumble into pitchfalls just as often when making pitches later in the engagement cycle. Year-end appeals are a perfect case in point. While some appeals favor stories while others lean toward stats, the pitch is fundamentally the same: help us make the world a better place by supporting our work. Your appeal needs to stand out and inspire people to take action. It needs to be pitch-erific.

How to avoid the Top 5 pitchfalls in your year-end appeals

Pitchfall #1: You sound like a robot

How many appeal letters have you read over the years? A lot. How many made you lunge for your checkbook or the Give Now button? Very few. All year long you do amazing, inspiring, jaw-droppingly fantastic work and then, when it comes time to share that with donors, you do so in a boring, yawn-inducing way. You sound like every other organization out there.  If you can put your copy on someone else’s letterhead without someone wondering what’s up, it probably isn’t a very appealing appeal. It might even be downright boring. Don’t be a robot—let your awesome shine through.

Pitchfall #2: You talk too much

There’s nothing wrong with a long appeal letter, per se. Sometimes long is good. There’s something wrong with long, boring, robotic appeals. If you’re going long, be sure it’s compelling from start to finish. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of unappealing blah, blah, blah.

Pitchfall #3: You talk about yourself

People don’t want to talk about you—they want to talk about themselves.  This doesn’t mean we’re all narcissistic jerks. It’s just human nature (survival of the fittest and all that stuff). You have to consciously, actively make it clear how what you’re doing relates to the person taking the time to read your appeal. What part  do they, and can they, play in your work? Your appeal letters should be littered with ‘you’ and ‘your’: your support, thanks to you, your contribution…you get the point. It’s about them, them, them, not you, you, you.

Pitchfall #4: You use jargon

Jargon makes people feel dumb because they don’t know what the heck you’re talking about. Feeling dumb and making  a donation does not go hand in hand. Delete the jargon. Banish it. Have someone outside your organization read anything you’re going to send out. They will tell you what jargon you’re using and might even have suggestions for the words they would use to say the same thing.

Pitchfall #5: You sound like a talking tagline

Okay, this applies more to those early, in-person conversations, so we won’t linger on this too long. However, since you will be out there at holiday parties, one note: remember that taglines are read, not said. Even if you have an award winning tagline, you can’t just bust it out and expect people to want to learn more. Likely, you will sound stilted and weird. And stilted and weird makes people shut down, rather than open up. Nuff said.

Thousands of people have made dramatic progress toward their goals—fundraising and otherwise—simply by avoiding these five pitchfalls. If they can do it, so can you!


Erica Mills heads up Claxon, a company on a mission to help those doing good get noticed. She is a self-proclaimed word nerd and an internationally recognized expert on mission-driven messaging and marketing strategy. Erica teaches at the University of Washington.   Download your copy of  Pitchfalls.


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  1. […] right around the corner, non-profits have to start thinking about year end pitches. According to an article on Beth’s Blog, “many organizations bring[ing] in upwards of 50% of their donations in the last three months of […]

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