Holiday Solicitation Emails, Part 2

This is part two of a series where I write about those emails that come into your inbox each holiday season asking for money. I'd like to see your organization get its share of cash. Here are some tips to do so. Today, I'm focusing on content. Be sure to stop back tomorrow for part three (or have it sent to you by subscribing via Feedburner). What should I say?

I know, I know, you have so much important stuff to say because your work is SO important. Put on the brakes. Approach this content as you would a date. Don't try to get in a proposal on the first pass. Go slow and build up the reader's engagement (i.e. read the content, then research the website, then check the citations/facts, then they will open the checkbook). This isn't to say you should be un-emotional. Emotive triggers are meant for solicitations. Just be wise about how much and how soon. Marketing is about relationships.

A word about priorities: If you have 15 priorities, they're no longer priorities; it's a laundry list. Be prepared to rein in upper management if necessary. Sometimes they approach a donor list like it's an ATM. Convince them with the relationship argument: Do you want to risk list burnout or cultivate a long-term affiliation? (I will write more about the appropriate email frequency in tomorrow's post, so don't forget to subscribe to the blog.) This summary sums it up:

[B]adly targeted, irrelevant business emails irk customers, don't generate sales or satisfaction, and can tarnish customers' perception of a once-trusted brand...Because of [Hewlett Packard's email newsletter's] emphasis on deep customer research, relentless testing, and continual improvement, "Technology At Work" influences over $100 million in revenue and saves millions more in defrayed customer service costs.

Well done, Forrester.

How should I say it?

Ensure the tone fits with your group. Peta and Greenpeace can be a little more cavalier than the Center for Responsive Politics. If your group rabble-rouses, the email should incite. If you are engaged in serious debate or advocacy, your reserved tone will come across as staid in a smart way.

One action to rule them all

If you are composing a holiday solicitation email, you are asking for money. However, keep in mind for this email (and the many others throughout the year) that you should only have one main action or "ask" per email. Even for holiday solicitation emails, various staff member may approach you. "Can't we ask them to send the email to their friends?" "Can we encourage them to join our MySpace/Facebook/Flickr/ groups?" "Can you include a mention of this article?" Enough.

I'm not saying that your audience is dumb, but they don't have a lot of patience. They are rushed. They would appreciate being led. So lead them. Leave all the periphery actions people want to include in other emails or at least buried at the bottom.

I also recommend using a friendly URL ( rather than a bunch of junkCommon Cause email with arrow small (, you get the point). Also, give your donation link its own paragraph and make it bold. This will draw the readers' eye. Check out how Common Cause got it right. Notice the two stand-alone links to the donation page, plus two links in the upper-right box and another at the end of the email. Sprinkle links generously - you never want your reader to need to search for them.

Gauging success

Set a fundraising goal and keep your audience informed of the progress. (This harks back to Howard Dean's bat as I mentioned in yesterday's post.) This will not only help you measure success, but it will galvanize your audience into completing a task. Many of us must finish a task and many of us like to know that others are contributing as well. Be honest about your progress and you are more likely to succeed.

Be polite

Just because we are in the crazed internet age does not mean you can neglect a proper salutation and a "thank you" or "sincerely" at the end. It sounds so basic but I have seen prominent organizations send out emails as though they were talking to a friend rather than asking for money. We do not trust rude people as much as polite people and they will only donate if they trust your stewardship.


Here are 10 more tips that I found useful. Feel free to send me solicitation emails you think are wonderful successes or horrible failures. And tune in tomorrow when I finish off this series with suggestions regarding sending frequency, list management, and a quote about cake. Yummy.