#1 Tip to Create a Donor-Centered Appeal Letter


Wish you could have been there:

Sue was at her computer, struggling once again. She was trying to get the wording right in her fundraising appeal letter.

“Dang, this is so hard,” she thought. Trying to make it donor-centered was a serious challenge.

Especially when her CEO wanted the letter to include news about her organization’s recent achievements. (!)

Sue knew that the letter needed to be needed all about the donors.

It needed to be a donor-centered fundraising appeal – not organization-centered.

One that would put a heartfelt ask in front of her donors. One that would maker her donors give generously.

Everybody’s been talking about donor-centered fundraising for years. (thanks Penelope Burk!)

But in my opinion, VERY FEW nonprofits are getting it right.

I hate to say it but I see some well-intentioned crap coming from some of my favorite nonprofits. :(

But I will say right now — that it is really, really hard to get “donor-centered” right!

I think it’s because we feel like we have to justify our ask, to build credibility with our donor.

But there IS a way to ask that can penetrate your donor’s heart. And there IS way to ask that can put your donor to sleep! (LOL – Which one do you choose?)

The Key to a Donor-Centered Fundraising Appeal:

Connect the Donor Directly to Your Organization’s Work

Stop talking (bragging) about yourself and your wonderful organization.

Stop taking credit for the change you create in the world. Instead give the donor the credit.

Change the focus.

Tell your donor that THEY are going to change the world, not you.

Talking about your nonprofit is “self-centered.”  Talking about your work out in the world, and connecting your donor’s gift directly to your work is “donor-centered.”

What do I mean? Here are some examples from real, live appeal letters I have received:

From a Self-Centered to a Donor-Centered Fundraising Appeal:

Here’s an “organization-centered” ask:

“Your renewed annual support is needed to help us fight for a strong, vibrant democracy.

Here’s the same ask in donor-centered language:

Your renewed annual support will help fight for a strong vibrant democracy.

Organization-centered ask:

“Your gift of xxxx will help us educate and empower many citizens in our area.

Donor-centered ask version: 

“Your gift of xxx will help educate and empower many citizens in our area.

Organization-centered ask:

Your gift will help us continue our contribution of great art to this community.

Donor-centered ask version:

Your gift will help bring great art to our very own community.

Organization-centered ask:

Your support is necessary to our ministry of providing care for those less fortunate and will make an impact on those in need in our community.

Donor-centered ask version:

Your support helps minister directly to those less fortunate. Your generous gift extends a loving hand to those in need in our community.

So what exactly am I doing, and how am I doing this?

Remove your organization as the intermediary between the donor and your results.

Get rid of yourself as a focus in the letter. Get rid of the “us” and “we” stuff.

Instead, help the donor feel directly connected to your own results. Use “you” and your.”

In the latter example, instead of having the ministry be the provider of care, instead the donor is asked to provide the care.

In this example, the donor gets to extend a loving hand, instead of the organization extending its hand.

Can you get this right? YES you can!

I’ll warn you that it’s really difficult. Your organization’s leaders want to brag a bit.

They want to take credit for their hard work. And they deserve credit – just not in donor-centered fundraising appeal letters!

Revamp your next appeal letter with these donor-centered strategies in mind:

  • Show your donor directly how and why their gift will make a difference.
  • Be passionate and wear your heart on your sleeve when writing to donors.
  • Use plain, powerful language that grips your donors’ hearts.
  • And tell your donor exactly how her money will be used.

BOTTOM LINE – Create a Donor-Centered Fundraising Appeal:

Donor-centered is quite difficult to nail.

But you can do it! Especially if you are going to really tap your donor’s true potential – let me know how you do!