It’s a new year and many nonprofit organizations are developing their fundraising and communications plans. While organizations are choosing to emphasize digital communication in their nonprofit marketing strategy, a compelling fundraising letter is still an essential part of your marketing mix.
Fundraising letters give you a chance to tell potential donors your story, demonstrate the impact your organization is making, and generate ongoing support for your mission.
With so much tied up in one piece of communication, it is important to take the time to craft a solid message that is sure to spur action among its readers.
Understanding the construction of a successful appeal letter is the first step in developing a compelling message.
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Anatomy Of A Fundraising Letter
Fundraising letters are typically written as a business-style letter and include six sections: the overline (or headline), introduction, body, closing, postscript, and reply device.
The purpose of an overline is to hook your readers and draw them in. Similar to a headline, the letter’s overline should create a sense of excitement and urgency. Bonnie Heneson used this overline to introduce the letter’s story for Hannah More School:
Keep your reader’s attention by introducing the goal of your letter, as well as your organization, in an interesting way. Consider posing a question, introducing an interesting fact, teasing the inspiring story you’re about to share, or shocking the reader like the introduction in this Make-A-Wish letter:
“There is nothing worse than watching your three year old die. And there is nothing better than stealing her back from heaven…”
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This section of your appeal letter is the most important because it includes the letter’s story and ask. The story gives the letter an emotional foundation that leads to the ask, which tells the reader exactly why you want them to donate.
Be sure to clearly demonstrate the need and imply urgency. Give your readers an idea of how their donation could be used, like this example from the American Cancer Society:
Begin your appeal’s closing by thanking your donors in advance. This display of gratitude demonstrates confidence in your reader and subtly implies that you expect them to donate. Your closing should also include a reminder of the importance of their gift.
A letter’s postscript is often the most-read section of text, so make sure it makes an impact. The P.S. gives you a chance to reinforce your message and include a strong call to action right above the reply device. This P.S. from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is both informative and emotionally charged:
“P.S. All of the animals at Best Friends need medical care, emotional support or behavior training (Some may need all three!) Thanks to your support of Best Friends, they are getting everything they need to thrive and become the wonderful pets they were meant to be. And the results are truly forever families. Please send your most generous gift to ensure that more animals get the same quality care, or give online at www.bestfriends.org/puppyfun. Thank you!”
Make it easy for your donors to give by including a reply device at the end of your letter. A simple form like this one from the Malvern Preparatory School Annual Fund includes donation amount selection boxes tailored to the reader (keep reading to see why this is important):
Determine The Goal Of Your Appeal
Before writing a successful appeal letter, you must first determine what that success will be. Why are you writing this fundraising letter? How much money do you hope to raise? How will the money be used? The answers to these questions will help guide the content of your letter and form the basis of your ask.
In addition to understanding the goal of your appeal letter, you must also connect this particular goal to the overall mission of your organization.
Helping your donors see the long-term effects of these fundraising campaigns by connecting it to your overall mission will assist in converting new donors into long-term supporters and solidify your organization’s relationship with your current long-term donors.
Connect Facts And Figures To Relatable Stories
Facts and figures are important in demonstrating need and showing your potential donors that you have done your research and are knowledgeable enough to apply their donations to the mission at hand. But these important numbers are also very boring.
To enhance your letter, you must also create an emotional message that encourages your readers to act. People love to hear about other people.
Tell stories about people your organization has helped in the past or about people your organization could help with the money raised from this campaign. Tell stories about the lives your nonprofit has changed or how this appeal could change lives in the future. Whatever story you choose to tell, make sure it is relatable, inspirational and real.
Your organization probably has several great stories to tell, but generalization and overviews don’t have the same impact as focused stories of one.
In an article for Wild Woman Fundraising, Vanessa Chase suggests outlining specific ways in which your organization has accomplished its mission this year.
From that list, select one person, place, or thing to write about. Flesh out the story by including the subject’s situation before and after your organization stepped in.
Conclude your story with a thank you to the donors who made this outcome possible. For an examples of stories that have helped drive fundraising, view our CauseVox Stories page.
Including a relatable subject and connecting the impact to donors with a “thank you” will help readers understand the potential impact they could make with a gift.
Segment Your Audience
Segmenting your audience and tailoring your appeal’s ask to that group will greatly improve response rates. Understanding the demographics and psychographics of your target audience will allow you to craft a message directed toward each segment and give your message a more personalized feel.
In addition to tailoring the message to each audience segment, suggest appropriate giving amounts to the letter’s target group. Use your organization’s current donor data to analyze past giving levels to determine the correct gift amounts to suggest in the letter’s text and on the reply device.
For example, if your letter’s audience typically donates $20, suggest $20, $50 or $100, but if your letter’s readers usually gives $200, you could suggest donation amounts such as $200, $500, or $1,000.
Make The Message Conversational
Proper grammar and stuffy language can make an appeal letter seem formal and uninteresting. When writing your appeal letter, make sure the text feels like a conversation. Include a personalized salutation at the beginning of the message, as well as a real signature from someone of importance within your organization.
Using personal pronouns like “I” and “you” also assist in keeping the letter’s tone personalized and conversational. According to the Ahern test, donor communications should use twice as many “yous” as “I” or “we” to be most effective.
Effective appeal letters must be engaging from the moment it hits your donors’ mailboxes. Include a compelling outer envelope featuring graphic elements like photos, teaser copy, or bright colors.
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Continue compelling design elements in the letter, as well. Photos can enhance the story by adding visual appeal, and the use of color in important areas (like the ask, P.S., or overline) help draw the reader’s eye to those spots.
Complete the appeal letter package with an eye-catching reply device and a postage-paid return envelope to make donating as simple as possible.
Following these guidelines will assist in creating an appeal letter that your donors want to read and that inspires them to give.
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