Your Fundraising Annual Appeal Letters Need A Villian

Alan Sharpe

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Anger is one of the best emotions that you can arouse in a donor. Anger is a healthy emotion, particularly when your fundraising letter offers donors a way to assuage their anger. “Individuals are more prone to respond to a genuine feeling of anger than to any other emotion, ” says Roland Kiniholm in his book, Maximum Gifts by Return Mail.

To make your donors angry, you need a villain. Villains are good. They help you focus your donors’ attention on one problem that needs fixing. That villain can be a person or a problem.

My advice is that you never name a particular person as your villain, since doing so is not very charitable, excuse the pun. Plus, you might get sued for defamation of character or slander. Instead, you should attack the catastrophe that the villain has created, or simply make the catastrophe the villain.

  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving has a villain: drunk driving (not drunken drivers)
  • The Coalition Against Gun Violence has a villain: gun violence (not gun owners)
  • Oxfam has a villain: poverty (not the wealthy)
  • Habitat for Humanity has a villain: unaffordable housing (not landlords)

Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States last week. The response by the US federal government to the plight of tens of thousands of refugees stranded in New Orleans was so slow that hundreds likely perished. For days, we saw the images on our television screens of stranded citizens dying in New Orleans while help tarried.

In your fundraising letter to raise funds for these hurricane victims, you could name President Bush as your villain. You could blame the plight of the displaced people on Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown, who many are saying is responsible for the delays that caused so many deaths. Or you could blame the mayor of New Orleans. But these attacks would sound unkind. And painting any of these men as the villain right now would be premature.

Instead, a successful appeal letter would paint the hurricane as the villain. Or point the finger at the flooding as the villain.

Your fundraising campaign can have a villain and still be positive. The Red Cross, for example, is running a fundraising campaign right now with this theme: Hope is Stronger than a Hurricane. There’s only one thing wrong with that theme. I didn’t think of it.

If you want to stir up one of the strongest human emotions to your advantage, chose a villain that your donors can get angry at. Then show how your non-profit organization can alleviate that anger by eliminating (or, more realistically, weakening) that villain.

About the author
Alan Sharpe is a professional fundraising letter writer, instructor and mentor who helps non-profit organizations raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors using creative fundraising letters. Learn more about his services, view free sample fundraising letters , and sign up for free weekly tips like this at .


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