As spring approaches, are you thinking about refreshing some of your fundraising materials? One of the easiest and most effective places to begin is to look at your fundraising appeal letter. The letter is a relatively simple way to reach many donors, invite them to make a first-time gift or renew their annual gift, and offer your organization an easy way to provide multiple opportunities to donors throughout your fundraising cycle.
The appeal of a fundraising letter lies in its simplicity and execution. A strong letter with a compelling call to action can be drafted quickly, taking advantage of current events in your community (or beyond!) and sharing recent success stories with supporters. The fundraising appeal letter does not need to be lengthy (indeed, it should not be!) and can be personalized for both the addressee and the signatory. The goal of the appeal letter is to have it read by your donors and then have those donors make a gift to your organization. To that end, consider several of these suggestions when you draft your letter:
1. Who will sign the appeal letter?
Often a fundraising appeal letter is signed by the organization’s executive director or board chair, and the letter’s tone reflects this. However, if your organization has had recent success stories that are compelling, consider inviting one of your successes to sign the appeal. Do you have a donor who is a cheerleader for your nonprofit’s work? Perhaps they will sign an appeal letter for you. The more personal the story and the impact of the support, the more interesting and motivational your appeal will be!
2. How will you address the letter?
“Dear friend” is fine, but “Dear Jane” or “Dear Ms. Smith” is even better. These days, even mass mailing can be personalized with the prospect’s name at the top – and research shows that personalization is impactful! Using a fundraising software even makes personalized communication like this easy.
3. Showcase your organization’s strengths
This suggestion has been around for years, and there’s a reason it is offered: descriptive letters work. You general prospective donors are not interested in statistics; they’re interested in how you do what you do and who benefits from it. Does your organization provide resume help or other professional assistance to job seekers? Tell the story of how one client used your services and secured the perfect job. Does your organization spay and neuter animals for a local no-kill shelter? Share the heartwarming story of one “patient’s” adoption and how it saved a life and changed a family! As many services as nonprofits provide, there are wonderful stories to tell. Share them!
4. Format your appeal succinctly
Watch the length of your fundraising appeal and make sure it is clear and to the point – there is no need to write pages and pages. If you think about your reading habits, you will likely agree that you are less willing to read small, densely packed paragraphs than a shorter, to-the-point letter.
Keep your paragraphs short and your sentences concise. Review the font for style and size. Is it readable? Watch the use of bolding or italics – these design elements are most effective if used sparingly. Consider the physical layout also: will you have photos?
It goes without saying, but let’s say it here: spellcheck! Or, consider using an online “typing assistant” that can provide grammar checks in addition to spell check. These grammar assistance platforms highlight weak sentence structures, misused commas, and difficult-to-read sentences, among other writing mistakes. Such help can elevate your fundraising appeal letter from just ok to a masterpiece!
5. What is the call to action?
Will you ask the reader to complete a pledge form and mail it back in a provided envelope? Are you going to use a tear-off form instead? Or invite them to make a gift online at an address provided? Make sure this call to action is clear and encouraging.
6. Consider if or how you might use the appeal letter in an electronic format
Can you use it in electronic ways in addition to “snail mail?” Is it easily scannable to be included on your website in some form? Would the letter be effective as an email? Many of the tips about content and length apply to an e-appeal. Write your fundraising appeal letter with multi-uses in mind!
Taking the time to review and refresh your organization’s fundraising appeal letters is a worthwhile exercise. You can offer your donors a new angle on your organization’s work and share the impact of their gift with a well-crafted story from a recipient, staffer, or donor.
Published: March 4, 2022