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Donors want to hear about the problems you’re seeing—and what you’re doing about them.

You know the old professional advice: Don’t bring your boss more problems, bring them solutions. The same guidance applies when asking donors for money.

Richard Viguerie is the father of conservative direct mail and an industry expert on nonprofit fundraising. His pamphlet Viguerie’s Four Horsemen of Marketing offers practical, transformative marketing and fundraising advice for mission-driven nonprofits.

In just four paragraphs, Viguerie identifies a common messaging problem in fundraising letters and emails. By implementing the simple fix he presents, an organization can reap significant rewards and build more meaningful donor relationships.

“The vast majority of fundraising letters that I see are what I call cuss letters,” Viguerie says in his Four Horsemen of Marketing. “Bad things are happening, therefore send me money.”

This strategy is used all over the place. The thought behind this might be that it’s easy to connect with a donor over a shared problem, or that the prevalence of this strategy in the political realm validates it.

This couldn’t be further from the case. It may be common, but this method of donor outreach is severely flawed.

The biggest perpetrators of “cuss letters” are political campaign fundraisers. And maybe (maybe) political campaigns can get away with them, but your organization cannot. “Pick me, I’m not like the other guy” might work in politics, but it’s not going to motivate donors to give you their hard-earned money.

So, what should you do instead?

Donors don’t want to support you because you’d identified a problem; they want to contribute to a solution. Chances are, they already know the problem exists. What they don’t know is that you have a solution for it—a solution that might get their attention and inspire them to participate in your mission.

“Prospective donors want to know how you’re going to solve the problem,” Viguerie says.

Viguerie adds that donors are smart and can tell if you are genuinely concerned about the problem. They can also tell if you don’t have a solution.

“They may send you a token gift,” Viguerie says. “The serious money they send to those who have a serious plan to solve the problem.”

If you want to strengthen your fundraising mail, stop sending donors “cuss letters.” They get enough of those already. Instead, present real, tangible solutions to problems that you and the donor are both concerned about.

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