Can you write a compelling fundraising appeal letter? It’s one of the most basic skills for every fundraising professional.

A fundraising appeal letter is both art and science.

It seems that everyone struggles with appeal letters. Everyone – from the largest institutions to the smallest organizations. 

So we often find ourselves helping our consulting and capital campaign clients with their appeal letters, to help them sharpen up their language and focus on a clear ask. 

Our clients keep asking us for our guidance on their appeal letters, so we wanted to share it with you today: 

10 Steps to an Appeal Letter that Brings In the Money.

1.Write a simple, emotional letter.

The objective of your direct mail is to touch your donor’s heart, not their brain.

The decision to give is made in an emotional place, not a logical one.

Long words, jargon, and technical language are like speed bumps along the way to a gift.

Remove the speed bumps.

Take out the grandiose, lofty wording. Use simple action verbs.

Don’t be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve. It’s ok to bring up issues and challenges that make the donor feel something. The letter has to have emotion and passion.

2.  Use a short, attention-grabbing first sentence.

Your opening sentence needs to draw the reader in. It needs to be powerful, even riveting.
 
We like to use the word “you” in an opening sentence, to encourage the donor to keep reading.
 
Can you write an opening sentence this strong?
 
“This is the most difficult letter I have ever written in the 10 years I have been the executive director of your domestic violence center. 

3. Ask your donor to fund or underwrite something.

What’s your Donor Offer? That’s what you are clearly asking donors to fund.

Help your donors feel like they are making a difference by helping with something specific.

Offer them the chance to fund something interesting, urgent and exciting. You can even make “general unrestricted” appeals feel powerful, by shaping the appeal about a story or a sample program. 

4. A longer fundraising appeal letter will do better than a shorter letter.

Remember – you are not your donor. You may be tired of saying the same thing over and over, but it still may be resonating with your donors.

Yes, we fundraisers hate long letters, but our donors love them.

The direct mail researchers have tested and tested long vs. short letters. And long letters win.

Why? It’s because  – if you can keep the reader reading – you engage them longer and longer in the problem you are asking them to help solve. You have more time to “sell” them on the idea of giving.

5. Be sure to include a specific call to action.

Such as:  “click the link and give today!”

You need to explicitly tell your donor – in the letter – what you want her to do. Be absolutely directive. Don’t beat around the bush.

It’s ok to tell your donors to please “send in a generous contribution quickly.

6. Make your appeal letter donor-centered.

How do you pull it off? Use the word “you” whenever possible. AND . . .  get rid of the words “we” and “us.”

Donor-centered writing makes the donor feel like they are the ones making a huge difference. They feel more attached and engaged to your cause. Be sure to literally give the donor credit for the change they are making in the world. 

Such as, “when you make this gift, you’ll be able to help a kid in Africa have new hope for a healthy life.”

Not, “when you make this gift, we will be able to help a kid . . . “

See the difference? It’s subtle but so important.

7. Use a deadline to create urgency.

Having a deadline will promote a faster and more likely response from your donor.

You have to give her a reason to give and to give NOW.

Tell her time is running out to help the kids or people you help, or that your matching challenge gift only is in effect for another 2 weeks.

8. Make your fundraising appeal letter all about the ask.

That’s the point of the letter, isn’t it?

The letter’s purpose is to say why someone should make a gift. There is no other purpose to the letter.

Your appeal letter is not a newsletter or an update; above all, it is an appeal. Don’t muddy the water with extraneous content. 

Can you “ask” and give a good reason for the donor give? And can you do it several times in your letter?

That’s the most important thing your letter needs to accomplish. 

9. Add a heartfelt PS (Post Script).

Your PS is prime real estate. Most donors will open your letter and read the the PS first.

So make your PS work for you. It could:

  • Restate your offer – (the kids will get help now)
  • Remind about the deadline
  • Make a bonus offer (your gift will be matched)

Create a PS that reinforces the ask and its urgency. 

10. Test, test, test your fundraising appeal letter.

Never miss an opportunity to test something in email or direct mail.

If you can be confident you’ll get 100 or more responses in each of your test groups, then your test will be statistically valid.

We often hear that testing is too expensive.  But with advances in printing technology, that’s no longer the case.

You can also consider testing teasers on your outer envelope, and many other elements of your package.

Your email appeals are even easier to test, so give it a try. Then you’ll know for sure what “lands” with your donors. 

BOTTOM LINE: How to nail your fundraising appeal letter.

Use this terrific template to lay out your own fundraising appeal letter. And let us know it works. 

Other articles on appeal letters we recommend: 

Creating a Donor-Centered Appeal Letter: A Makeover

#1 Tip to Create a Donor-Centered Appeal Letter

3 Tips for Improving Your Next Fundraising Appeal Letter