Want to create a donor-centered appeal letter?

It’s more difficult than you think, it’s not very intuitive.  It doesn’t come naturally.

When we actually sit down to write a letter, our natural inclination is to remind our donor how worthwhile and important our effort is.

We want to say nice things about our organization and our work. Unfortunately, writing about ourselves and our organization just doesn’t cut it.

So take a look at this makeover into a donor-centered appeal letter.  And check out our rewrite at the end of the post.

The “Before” Letter:

Here at the xxx, we’ve been working to raise our game since my hiring as the new executive director in June 20xx.  

This year, our Annual Auction will be held on date. This auction is going to be a very special one, and we expect 250 of the state’s leading xxx patrons to attend. We need your help to make it the biggest and best annual auction to date!

 Here is how we’ve been upping our game, how we want to continue improving, and why we need a truly exceptional work of art from you this year.

You know our mission – promoting public awareness and appreciation of the history, heritage, and ongoing tradition of xxxx in our state. The better we fulfill our mission, the more we all, as a statewide community of xxxx, xxxx lovers and supporters, benefit. 

Since June 20xx, we have been making a concerted effort to reconnect with xxxx artists across the state. There are a lot of you, so it is an ongoing process and dialogue. . . (extensive update information about interns and grants.)

We’ve assembled a dynamic auction committee consisting of xxxx, yyy, and zzzzz an influential lawyer with strong ties to our tradition, to name a few. This group has the ability to make great things happen, they are used to doing so. 

This is why we need you, our xxxx, xxxx lovers and supporters, our core bases, to step up and help us by donating something exceptional to this year’s auction. We are on a roll. Help us keep that momentum and better fulfill our mission, one that benefits us all.  

Here was our feedback:

1. Big problem: the ask is buried at the bottom of the letter.

You need to ask, and make it explicit. Don’t lose the ask in the middle of extraneous copy.

2. Too organization-centered.

Don’t start out talking about yourself as the new ED. And don’t go on and on about the organization. There are too many “we” and “us” statements in the letter.

 3. The words “we need” are a very weak ask.

It turns donors off. Donors give to opportunities . . . not needs.

4. Use the word “you” more than we.

That’s how you make it donor-centered.

5. What’s in it for the donor?

What about the smart generous artist who provides this wonderful gift – what do they get out of this?

6. Stronger opening.

Draw your reader in by using an opening starting with the word “you.” That gives the reader a reason to keep reading!

7. There’s a large unreadable block of copy in the letter.

It’s unreadable because it is too dense. Appeal letters need to have very short paragraphs because the reader is skimming.

Our roughed-out donor-centered appeal rewrite:

Dear Ms. Artist,

You’ve been wonderful to support the xxxx organization through our growth adventures. Thank you for your partnership.  (or involvement etc.) (Note: starts with the word You.)

Did you know the annual auction is coming up in September? For a change we’re having it in xxxx location, on xxxx date in the early evening so we can draw in more collectors and donors. The local collectors love to meet our artists, so please mark your calendar and be sure to attend.

There will be a special reception for our local artists – because this night is when we spotlight you and your amazing art. (Note: talks about what the donor will get out of this event.)

Our goal is to raise money – but also to introduce you to local collectors so you can expand your own market. (Note: this is something the donor wants!)

We’re writing today to ask you to donate a xxxx work to the auction. Your gift, and those of the other artists, will support the xxxx organization so we can do xxxx for you.  The center will have xxx impact etc etc etc.

Note: the ask is outright.

It is in the first part of a paragraph so people will see it. Also note that the ask is connected to a benefit and an impact. Be sure to talk about the impact your organization makes in the world and what it does for donors.

Also, you don’t need to talk about the committee and who we are. You don’t need to talk about your grants and interns. Interns are generally not interesting.  No more artist in residence update stuff.

Also eliminate every single word, phrase, or sentence that is not totally compelling.

Consider a bang-up closing along these lines:

Let’s make this year’s auction the best ever! We’ve got a great team of smart, connected volunteers working on sponsorships, a fabulous location, and all that is left is to have your partnership and participation. 

Come on and join the fun. We’d love to showcase you to a whole new community of wealthy collectors!

Can you see the difference?

It’s all in the tone, the friendliness and the camaraderie you want to create with your donors.

It’s all in the point of view.

Disclaimer: We are not professional fundraising copywriters, so this is not perfect.  There are many pros (Harvey McKinnon,  Leah Eustace, Lisa Sargent, Jeff Brooks, Tom Ahern, John Lepp, to name a few) you should follow.

Bottom Line: Creating a Donor-Centered Appeal Letter

You absolutely can turn an organization-centered letter into a donor-centered appeal letter. But the approach is as different as night and day.