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Drafting Fundraising Letters: Seven Top Tips

Year- end fundraising season is coming up, which means it’s time for your organization to start thinking about year-end appeals.

Since this is such a lucrative time for asking for donations, chances are you’re probably wondering how you can make your fundraising letters more compelling.

You’ve come to the right place! In this article we’ll discuss seven top tips for drafting better fundraising letters, including:

  1. Start with the P.S.
  2. Think about appearance.
  3. Make sure they’re emotionally compelling.
  4. Personalize them.
  5. Center them around the donor.
  6. Be direct.
  7. Don’t forget to include information about other ways to give.

By the time we’re finished, you’ll be able to craft a year-end appeal letter that your donors won’t be able to refuse. Now let’s get started!

1. Start with the P.S.

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When drafting any piece of writing, it’s natural to want to start at the beginning.

But we’re going to let you in on a little secret: don’t.

As you’re crafting your fundraising letters, you should instead start with the P.S.

Although it seems counterintuitive, decades of eye motion studies have shown that the first two things readers look at when opening a letter are their name and the postscript.

That being the case, your P.S. is the perfect place to sum up the content of your letters, so even donors who are skimming will still receive the most important information included in your appeal!

Make sure your P.S.:

  • Includes a short summary of how you plan to use donors’ contributions.
  • Reiterates your appeal.
  • Gives donors the deadline for gifts.

If you weren’t planning to include a P.S. in your letters (and many writers are naturally inclined not to), you should definitely reconsider!

Takeaway: Including a postscript in your appeal letters ensures that all donors, even those who are just skimming, will register the intent of your letter.

2. Think about the appearance.

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Before getting into the body of your fundraising letter, you’ll want to think about presentation.

The appearance of your letter is equally as important as the content you include. Here, “appearance” refers to both the design and readability of your letter.

Think about it: a letter that looks unprofessional can make it seem like your organization didn’t put as much care and effort into your appeal as you should have. And if it appears as if your organization isn’t taking the ask seriously, your donors certainly aren’t going to, either.

On the other hand, if your letter is difficult to read (think: small text, illegible font, long paragraphs), your donors won’t make it much farther than the salutation.

When crafting your letters, it’s important to keep design and readability in mind. 

Here are some helpful (and simple!) tips to draft by:

  • Always print your letters out on high-quality paper and mail them in durable envelopes.
  • Brand your letter to your organization (at the very least, include your logo at the top!).
  • Write in short, digestible paragraphs.
  • Highlight the most important information (you can use bolding, italics, etc.).

These are just a few of the ways you can make your letters more appealing. When they look great and are easy to digest, your ask is sure to be as impactful as possible!

Takeaway: Donors are much more likely to read through and follow up on visually appealing and scannable fundraising letters.

Bonus: Readable doesn’t necessarily equal short. Check out GuideStar’s argument for longer fundraising letters.

3. Make sure they’re emotionally compelling.

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Raising money can be a difficult feat. However, nonprofits have the advantage of a worthy cause on their side!

Luckily, these noble causes are naturally emotionally-charged.

Appealing to emotion can make your asks much more convincing. When donors are personally moved by your cause, they won’t be able to refuse!

As you’re drafting your fundraising letters, try to channel the intrinsically emotional nature of your cause.

You can make your appeal letters more emotionally compelling in a couple of ways:

  1. By telling a story. Your cause can become more personal and impactful when you tell a vivid story about those you serve. The story should both bring to life the current problem and tell how donors’ gifts can alleviate this problem. For actionable advice on crafting the perfect story for your appeal, check out this resource.
  2. By including photos. It’s been estimated that people process images a whopping 60,000 times faster than they do text (source). If you really want to pack an emotional punch with your appeal letter, consider adding images of those you serve.

Both of these strategies can make your cause and your donors’ role in furthering that cause more tangible.

When your donors can clearly visualize the problem and really put themselves in the shoes of those you help, your organization will see more donations.

Takeaway: Including stories and images of those you serve will tug at donors’ heartstrings to make your fundraising letters more compelling.

4. Personalize them.

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No one likes to open a fundraising letter and see “Dear Donor” or “Dear Friend” at the very top, especially if they’ve been loyally supporting your nonprofit for years.

Using a universal salutation can make your appeal letters seem generic, as if they weren’t thoughtfully and specifically crafted for the donors who make such a difference to your cause.

Generic letters can portray to your donors that you’re only interested in raising money, not in getting to know them and building relationships with them. And that can be incredibly off-putting.

Whenever you’re sending out fundraising letters, use whatever information is available to you to personalize them to your donors.

At the very least, you should include the donor’s preferred name (spelled correctly!) in your salutation.

However, referencing previous contributions and using other pertinent information stored in your nonprofit CRM can help you make your appeal letters more impactful.

When they see how well you’ve been paying attention to their relationship with your organization, your donors will be beyond impressed. And they’ll feel special knowing that you took the time to craft your donation letter specifically for them.

Making your donors feel valuable and appreciated is the key to successful fundraising. As much as they might hate to admit it, people are much more inclined to keep giving when their contributions are properly recognized.

Takeaway: Personalizing your letters to each individual donor can make them more powerful, because donors will know you truly value their individual contributions.

5. Center them around the donor.

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Any good fundraiser knows that any effective fundraising strategy is donor-centric.

Seeing as the direct ask is the pinnacle of your fundraising strategy, that definitely applies to your appeal letters, too.

Donor-centric simply means that the body of your appeal letters addresses the donor and revolves around their role within your organization.

Here are two ways you can ensure that your correspondence is donor-centric:

  • Use more “you”s than “I”s or “we”s. Your fundraising letter should directly address the donor. That means you should be writing in second person, conversational language. When you’re done crafting your letter, take a tally of the pronouns you’ve used. Your uses of “you” should significantly outnumber your uses of “I” or “we”.
  • Highlight donors’ contributions. Instead of focusing on what your nonprofit needs (“We’re trying to raise $30,000 to build a school for underprivileged youth in Costa Rica.”), focus on the donor’s role and how they can help you further your cause (“With your generous donations, you can help provide a quality education to hundreds of students in Costa Rica.”).

So why exactly is this strategy so important?

Well, to be frank, donors aren’t interested in simply hearing about your nonprofit’s goals and achievements. To clarify, they are interested in that information, but they also want to understand their role in it and learn how their support can help make a difference.

By centering your fundraising letters around your donors, they’ll be able to more clearly visualize how they can get involved. And if they’re moved by your cause, they’ll certainly start (or keep!) contributing.

Takeaway: Donor centric fundraising letters result in more donations, because your donors will better understand how they can join in and support your cause.

6. Be direct.

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Let’s be honest: raising money is always a little awkward, even if you are fundraising for a noble cause.

But making direct asks is a necessity for all nonprofits, at least if they want to keep their doors open and continue making a difference (and we assume you do!). After all, the best way to get what you need is simply to ask for it.

Since asking for money is inevitable anyways, resist that (natural) urge to skirt around your ask in your fundraising letters.

Your appeal letters should always be direct. It should be as clear as possible that the intent behind these letters is to fundraise.

To make your asks clear, you should:

  • Put forward a quantitative, achievable fundraising goal.
  • Tell donors exactly how they can support you.
  • Suggest a specific donation amount for each donor.
  • Link donors’ gifts up with tangible results (e.g. $30,000 builds a new school for 200 children in Costa Rica.).
  • Spell out exactly which steps need to be taken to make a donation.

The bottom line is that your donors won’t know what you’re asking for unless you tell them outright. They want to get involved, so let them know exactly how they can do that!

Takeaway: To see the most donations, the intent of your fundraising letters should be straightforward. Donors won’t give if there’s any uncertainty around what you’re asking for.

7. Don’t forget to include information about other ways to give.

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With digital fundraising becoming more and more widespread, chances are, your organization provides more than one giving channel to your donors.

At the very least, you probably accept donations through an online donation form, if not through mobile, email, and other fundraising channels as well.

Just because you’re mailing a fundraising letter doesn’t mean you only have to accept donations through direct mail.

In fact, your appeals will be more successful if you provide your donors with multiple ways to follow up on your letter and make their gifts.

Of course, you should always include a return envelope and a stamp with your fundraising letters. Direct mail is still a prominent fundraising channel, and some donors still prefer to mail in a check over giving online.

However, you should include information about other giving channels, too.

For example, if your organization also accepts donations online and through a text-to-give service, you should let donors know that these options are available and direct them to where they can make their gifts through these channels.

The freedom of choice can be a powerful thing when it comes to getting your donors to give.

When donors can choose the channels that are most convenient and intuitive to them, they’ll be more responsive to your ask.

Takeaway: The ability for donors to choose their own involvement will result in more donations, because they can pick the donation channel that’s most suited to their preferences.

Bonus: Don’t forget to say thanks! Here are 9 clever ways you can thank your donors after they’ve made a contribution.

We hope that some of our tips can help you achieve greater fundraising success this year-end giving season.

What fundraising letter tips have worked for your organization in the past? Let me know in the comments!

John-Killoran-atpay-888x1024_1.jpgJohn Killoran is CEO of @Pay, a new fundraising technology that makes it easy for people to donate in two clicks from text, email, web and social media sites.  John pioneered SMTP payments and has been a major innovator in the mobile payments space for the past 5 years.

 
Topics: Fundraising