I got an interesting request the other day, which was probably spam, but it gave me a great idea for a post, because although the email was extreme, it highlighted a common problem I see everyday. It is the basic question of how to ask for free money!
Everybody wants free money, in the form of a donation or scholarship, but very few people do it well. If you're a high school senior or college student looking for a scholarship, follow these tips to get a better feel for how to go about asking and applying. If you're an adult asking for some type of donation (whether for your organization or otherwise), keep these tips in mind.
Last week I received an email with the subject: “please help me”. As you can see, it was all lower case, and it gave no sense of what the email was about. However, I do like to help readers, so I opened the email anyway. Plus, it did come from my Contact Form, and it wasn't flagged as spam, so I thought I might as well read it.
The Initial Pitch
Most marketing experts tell you that you have about 2 seconds to land a potential deal. For most readers, this equates to about 1-2 lines of text. Here is how the email started:
To whom this may be concerned,
My name is Anastoria Walton. I am scholarship hunting and my
admissions representative for college told me to write a letter of
interest to you guys.
First, if you read my blog, you know that my name is Robert. Yes, I do have two writers (Kathleen and JT), but you can find their names easy enough as well. So, if you're going to ask for money, or a scholarship in this case, at least use the person's name. Do a little homework, and find the right person to send your request to, and then use their name.
Second, don't tell me that someone else referred you. This is your scholarship – you should be taking the effort to seek out and find them. And even if you do get help, you don't need to tell me that. A better way to say it is I found your site when searching for great resources on student loan debt, which I'm trying to avoid. Not only does this show you know what my site is about, it shows you researched it, and it even plays a little to my vanity.
Tell Me What You Want
After your initial pitch, you need to elaborate a bit on what you want. Look, we're not dumb, but sometimes the message can get lost – and you DON'T want your message getting lost. Here is how this email continues:
I will be attending Full Sail University in the
fall of this year to earn my Bachelors of Science degree in Music
Business. I need financial help but nobody has been able to help me.
My total tuition will be about $96,000, for the entire time I will be
at Full Sail. This includes housing, food, toiletries, & education. I
am in Full Sail’s accelerated program which will have me receiving
my degree in 20 months instead of four years. We are accredited by the
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges. (ACCSC).
Ok, so I get the message that she wants money towards her tuition, but she doesn't really tell me how much, or what her plan for raising the money is. In fact, she turns me off quite a bit with the pity-party in line 3: “I need financial help, but nobody has been able to help me.” I can't stand when people feel entitled to be helped. I'm all about helping people and donating to great causes (i.e. Yakezie Writing Contest Scholarship), but scholarships and donations must be earned. Plus, I've put together a ton of free resources for people looking to pay for school on my Everything Student Loans page. If she would have done any due diligence, she would have discovered those resources.
Next, your request needs to be reasonable. I appreciate how she does describe what school she plans to attend (or is attending, it appears she contradicts herself in this paragraph), and also how she highlights that it is an accredited university. That is key. However, I would have wished she addressed the tuition and the return on education. If you know me, you know that I'm leery on big education expenses when the returns may not match. But if she raises the money and doesn't pay out of pocket, good for her!
Personal Stories are Good, Just Don't Go Too Far
Highlighting you're a real person is usually a good thing. Readers like to connect to individuals, and not feel like they're talking to a machine or business. That is why in scholarship pitches, it is a great idea to include a personal message. Here is her personal message paragraph:
My mother is a single parent. She has been for 40 years. My brother &
I are 20 years apart. I am the baby and now that I am going to school,
she is trying to do all that she can. She doesn't know much about
scholarships and grants so I have been alone. I have written so many
companies and businesses but they seem to not be replying to me at
all. It's a very simple situation, someone can either help me or not.
I will not give up though. I will keep writting companies until
someone helps me. I want better for my family. Right now we live in a
roach infested house but it's the best we can do for now. We've been
here for almost 6 years. It's been really hard but God has been my
strength through it all.
A personal story about how you are the first to go to college in your family is great. But a personal story that just highlights the rough experiences you've had is terrible. I'm sorry, but I was very turned off by this paragraph. Once again, it becomes a pity party and not a reason to help this person. And then she has the tenacity to talk down to me in her pitch: “It's a very simple situation, someone can either help me or not.” I'm pretty sure that line is why people reading her pitch opt for not helping.
Also, leave out the gory details. I'm sorry about the living conditions, but this is a pitch for a scholarship, not a novel.
Finally, Take The Message Home
At the end of any pitch, you need to solidify your position and message, and give a call to action. She does an okay job consolidating her message, but there is still no clear call to action:
Within the next 10 years I’d like to receive also my Master’s in
Entertainment business while getting ready to open up my own record
label. I’ve been singing, songwriting, and rapping since the age of
9. Soon I hope to earn my way to the top of SESAC’s roster. Music is
one thing I cannot live without. It moves me and my creativity will be
taken to a level where creativity has never been taken before. No
dreams are too big.
When ending your pitch, you need to sum it all up – which she does here. However, she never really tells me what she is asking for during any part of her message. Does she want a scholarship? Does she just want money? I don't really know. I do get that she loves music, had a hard time in life, and is trying to do better. But this conclusion just doesn't take the message home.
Instead, sum up your thoughts, and tell me how I can help you achieve your goals. Also, maybe even include how your success will help me in the future. Remember, most businesses start scholarships for selfish reasons – to get their own name out their publicly as doing a good thing.
Other Things To Remember in Scholarship Pitches
If you're going to be asking for money or pitching a scholarship request, you need to avoid these common mistakes as well:
- Use proper grammer and punctuation (Get someone to proofread your request if you're not the best at it)
- Remember to Sell Yourself
- Be Specific in the Request
- Highlight Others Who've Help You (Businesses like to be in good company)
What other tips do you recommend for pitching a scholarship or donation? What would you avoid?