The Basics of Fundraising Letter Writing

1. Make it a package deal

Don’t just start writing a letter; think about the whole package including the outer envelope, the contents of the letter, the Post Script and the donation forms.

2. Every letter that is not personalized is compromised

Your database contains a list of your donors by name, address, and postal code. Address your donors by their names. If you are writing to an acquired list of donors you should have their names too.

3. Grab their attention

Your first line is crucial. If you don’t capture their attention at the very beginning they will not bother to read your letter.

Some hints:
• Issue a command: Here is a most unusual Greeting Card. But please don’t keep it!
• Make it newsworthy: Every day 750 people die of HIV/AIDS in Kenya.
• Ask an intriguing question: What’s the biggest thing you can fit into an envelope?
• Start telling a story: Johnny is going to see his dad today. And he is terrified.

4. Make it conversational

Writing a letter is like starting a conversation; you’re breaking the silence. It should be full of “you” and “our” and “we” and “your” but mostly “you”—because you are talking to your donors and want them to recognize your belief that they are important.

Some hints:
• Keep sentences short as if you are chatting—long run-on sentences are daunting to read;
• And do remember to include that word “you” (The word YOU is GLUE)

5. Your story

One of the most powerful ways to get your reader’s attention is storytelling, so focus on one individual (child/person/animal). Create a personal story, especially one that strikes an emotional chord. This very often elicits a better response from potential or existing donors.

6. Make it easy to read

Write with a warm and personable voice and use double spacing; it helps legibility. Large blocks of copy are best
digested in bite-sized portions. Smaller blocks look like less work. Research on writing has also revealed that the numbers of words in a sentence directly affects comprehension:

Very easy to read: 8 words
Easy to read: 11 words
Fairly easy: 14 words
Standard: 17 words
Fairly difficult: 21 words
Difficult: 25 words
Very difficult: 29 words

7. A picture is worth a thousand words

Pictures are powerful. Make sure you show your reader a visual of what you are talking about—highlighting the situation or person.

8. Tone of voice

The tone of voice should reflect the nature of the communication: urgency if appropriate, but sincerity, honesty and openness are vital. Great advice for writing a natural, engaging letter is to pretend you’re having a cup of coffee with a friend and sharing your story.

9. Add a sense of urgency

Do things such as informing your donors that this is a special year-end package. It adds a feeling of necessity and prompts them to act.

10. Acknowledge and thank them for their past support

Research shows that telling donors what their last donation achieved, before asking for another gift, is key to holding onto your donors and moving them up the donor pyramid.

11. Inspire and involve your reader

Prompt them to do something. Many simple devices that make readers act include: involvement items like scratch & win cards; a thought provoking activity; an interesting or challenging command.

12. The ask

Explain why they should donate. You want to leave people with the impression that their help is absolutely critical for your work to continue. Show what the need is and how your charity is addressing that need. Also ask early and ask often.

13. Show what each amount can accomplish

Showing what each amount can accomplish gives them a sense of what their donations can do.

14. If you’re presenting a problem (bad news), balance it with how it can be solved with the donor’s suppprt (good news)

We know that bad news raises more funds than good news. Neuromarketers have a name for this phenomenon; they call it “counterfactual reflection”. A good example: in the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, businessman George Bailey shifts from despair to intense motivation when an angel intervenes to show him how much worse off his town would have been without him. Most of us don’t have a guardian angel named Clarence to show us alternative histories, but it turns out that imagining a “what if” scenario is a powerful tool in fundraising.

15. Indent paragraphs

Indents help people read more quickly. Indents also signal that this is a personal letter, not a business letter.

16. Select a font that’s easy to read

Serif typefaces like Courier, Garamond or Times are easier to read than sans serif typefaces like Helvetica and Arial.

17. Don’t forget the P.S.

It’s your final plea for action. More than half the people read the postscript before they read the letter.

18. The closing

Tell them again why their contribution is so important. Reinforce why you need their help.

19. Donation forms

Make it easy for donors to either make a one-time gift or become monthly donors. Most charities use a legal size paper and add the one-time donation form on page 1 of the letter and the monthly donation form on page 2 of the letter. Both donation forms are less than 4” in height to fit a business reply-envelope. Generally, a No. 9 envelope.

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