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Fundraising letters aren’t exactly a ground-breaking fundraising method, but that doesn’t mean the science behind them has been mastered.
Quite the opposite—it’s easy to make fundraising letters too long, too complex, too boring, or downright confusing.
Writing a great fundraising letter is a skill, and we’re here to help you get started on the path of writing compelling fundraising letters that resonate with donors and generate revenue.
In this article, we share the most basic anatomy of a good fundraising letter and some expert tips on how to get fundraising letters to work for you. We also share 3 free fundraising letter examples for you to use at the end.
What are fundraising letters?
Fundraising letters are written pieces of communication addressed to a prospect donor (individual, group, or business) aiming to raise funds for a project, campaign, or organization.
The term “fundraising letters” used to refer only to printed or hand-written letters sent via direct mail. However, nowadays the term often also encompasses fundraising appeals sent via e-mail. It’s important to note that all fundraising emails take the form of fundraising letters, but some do.
How long should fundraising letters be?
One page is usually a good length, but sometimes you might need more space. However, staying within two pages is considered good practice.
Be concise. Use only as many words as you need to describe the issue/need and to ask the recipients for support.
A fundraising letter, especially the physical one sent via direct mail, may also include additional inserts (such as photographs, booklets, etc.)
Pro tip: If you make your fundraising letter longer than one page, make sure to include your call to action earlier in the letter, in case your readers don’t make it to the end.
When should you send fundraising letters?
Fundraising letters can be sent at any time of the year, but if there’s one thing to remember when it comes to sending fundraising letters, it’s this: don’t spam.
Sending fundraising letters weekly or two times per month isn’t just expensive (if you’re sending them via direct mail), it’s also damaging to your relationship with donors.
Furthermore, sending fewer fundraising letters will make them special and therefore more likely to be opened and read.
No one likes to be spammed. Once per quarter is a good benchmark, and if you’re choosing to send only one fundraising letter per year, send it at the end of the year (September to December) when people tend to give more.
Finally, you can also experiment with sending fundraising letters on the days that are meaningful to your organization alone. For example, if you’re a volunteering organization, try sending a fundraising appeal letter on National Volunteer Day.
How do you send a fundraising letter?
Fundraising letters can be sent through a variety of channels, and as mentioned previously, the most common ones are email and direct mail.
Email is more affordable, as you avoid printing and mailing costs. However, direct mail can help you reach those audience segments that email can't reach. Despite the rise in digital giving, direct mail donations make up the majority of donations given.
For younger audiences, receiving something in the mail can be exciting in a world where everything’s gone digital.
How to write a fundraising letter?
There’s a lot that goes into crafting a good fundraising letter. While there’s space for experimentation, the proven principles of effective fundraising letters remain consistent.
Anatomy of a fundraising letter: 5 key elements of an effective fundraising letter
1. Address your recipient personally
Never start your fundraising letter with “Dear Sir/Madam” or “Dear Prospective Donor”. This will only make your readers feel like just a random address on a list.
Instead, address your recipient personally to make them feel valued and recognized.
In donors’ eyes, personalization makes them feel as if the letter was intended for them, not just a random supporter.
And if you want them to pay attention, this is exactly how they need to feel.
2. Share about your mission and your impact
Briefly remind the reader about your nonprofit’s mission, your raison d'être.
What are you here to do? How are you changing the world? Share more specifics about your impact, but don’t go overboard on numbers.
3. Outline the need/problem
Define the problem and talk about the need. Clearly outline the bigger issues and problems your beneficiaries are facing.
Don’t talk about everything you do in one letter. This will not only make the fundraising letter too long but will also likely overwhelm and bore your reader.
Instead, focus on a very specific need (campaign/project/initiative). Narrowing it down directs the attention of the reader to a problem and a possible solution, making it more likely they’ll feel empowered to give.
After explaining the problem/need, always highlight how it can be solved by the person reading.
4. Tell a story
Storytelling is key to successful fundraising, especially when you’re writing fundraising letters.
Successful storytelling is rooted in emotion, so make sure you build a narrative that evokes emotion. Storytelling makes it more likely that readers will invest emotionally into your letter and will therefore want to donate.
Be sure to remember the identifiable victim effect— which states that people are willing to expend greater resources to save the lives of identified victims than to save equal numbers of unidentified or statistical victims.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t share statistics or numbers. But these numbers should always only provide the context, demonstrating the scale of the problem. However, people connect to people, not numbers. So, numbers shouldn’t be the only thing there. Tell a single person’s story to create a connection between the reader and the larger issue.
Pro tip: Include powerful images of your beneficiaries in your letter. This will tug at your readers’ heartstrings and make your fundraising letters that much more compelling.
5. Call the reader to action
You never want to leave your reader guessing what your organization is really asking from them.
Make the next action clear for the reader. How can they support you? Can they mail a check back? Go to your landing page and give?
In your fundraising letter, you may need to reiterate the call to action several times. Repeating the ask not only builds urgency in the reader’s mind but also makes it very clear what is it that you’re asking for. Additionally, by repeating your ask, you’ll catch the attention of people who skip around or just skim your appeal (which nowadays is most of us).
Pro tip: Specify exactly how much money your nonprofit is asking for.
Note: These elements of a fundraising letter don’t have to exactly be in this order. You might, for example, choose to start with a story (as you’ll see in one of our fundraising letter examples.)
Tips for writing a compelling fundraising letter
1. Focus on “you”
Review your fundraising letter. Do you see a lot of “I” and “we”? If so, work to rewrite some of those into “you”.
Instead of talking only about the work you’re doing, reframe your communications to highlight how the donors make your work possible.
The donor should feel like the hero of the story. Of course, you want to share about your good work and your impact in order to build trust and credibility, but it’s good to be aware of the thin line between sharing successes and bragging.
2. Keep it simple and straightforward
You don’t want your readers to have to pull out a dictionary to figure out what your insider terms mean. Try to use the same words you would use if you were speaking face to face with the reader.
Use simple language, and use metaphors only when you need to give your reader a better understanding of whatever it is you need to share.
Be clear. If you are looking for a $50 donation, say so. Don’t go around in circles too much. You’re sending a fundraising letter, so asking for money clearly and precisely is exactly why you’re writing it.
3. Think about the appearance
Picking the right words to include in your fundraising letter matters, and so does how they look.
Your letter should be easy to read, otherwise, you’ll likely lose the donors right at the salutation.
When crafting your fundraising letters, keep readability in mind:
- Brand your letter with your organization’s logo.
- Write in brief, digestible paragraphs.
- Highlight the most important information (use bold, italic, bullet points, etc.)
- Use, at least, font size 12.
- Have sufficient white space.
Look at your fundraising letter with a designer’s eye. Your letter shouldn’t be so packed with dense text that it repels the reader from even starting it.
4. Tie donations to impact
Research has found over and over again that modern donors, particularly millennials, don’t give if they do not clearly see the impact of their donation.
To motivate your readers to donate, paint a picture for them showing them what their donations can achieve through specific examples.
Instead of saying “$30 would really help us do our work”, write that $30 could help you purchase a hygiene kit for one homeless person, or that $300 supplies the resources needed to provide care for one elderly person in need for a month.
Specifying tangible results always makes for a better selling point than a general appeal for money.
5. Utilize the sense of urgency
Your donors likely have many causes they’re passionate about, or at the very least, many organizations that are vying for their support.
If they don’t feel like you need the money now, they might decide to give it to someone else who appears to need it more.
To create urgency in your fundraising letter, talk about what happens if your readers don’t give. What are the consequences? Be specific. Don’t just say “We won’t reach our goal.” This doesn’t mean much to the donor. Instead, talk about real consequences. Will families go hungry, will children miss out on school, will parts of the rainforest be cleared? The donor needs to see clearly what happens if they don’t give.
Use language that conveys urgency, like “now,” “today,” “late,” “deadline,” and even “urgent” to trigger a sense of time-related gravity in the reader’s mind.
Pro tip: If you have a specific deadline for your appeal, tell the donor. People naturally respond to deadlines. Never be dishonest with your donors, but make sure to communicate those deadlines that you do have.
6. Personalize the letter
If the reader has volunteered with your organization in the past, mention it. If they came to your last annual gala, thank them for it again. Your donors will very much appreciate it!
To be able to do this, naturally, your donor management systems need to be top-notch. When you consistently and diligently gather information on your donors, you can then use this information to further your cause.
Understandably, it’s hard to personalize a fundraising letter to each person but segmenting your donor base and tailoring your letter to each segment will greatly improve response rates.
Pro tip: Be mindful of the “share vs. ask ratio” in your organization’s communication sequence. Don’t only reach out to your donors when you need money. Yes, this is a guide about fundraising letters, but cultivating donor relationships is key to successful fundraising.
7. Thank the donor
Thank the donor for any previous support they have given to your organization. This will make them feel appreciated and acknowledged, increasing the chances of them choosing to donate to your cause and also building rapport.
Making donors feel valued and appreciated can help convert one-time donors into regular donors and can turn donors into passionate advocates.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to thank your donors after their donation! Don’t let the only thing your donor receives after they give be a donation receipt. Plan a series of ongoing communications with your donors. Provide updates to your donors on the impact of their gifts and show what goes on behind the scenes.
8. Make it easy
Don’t make your donors think too hard about how to donate. Even if you crafted the most perfect fundraising letter, if you then directed your donors to a donation page that’s slow, confusing, and laggy – they will give up right then and there.
Make it exceptionally easy for donors to give on the go. Invest in an online fundraising solution that’s simple, well-designed, user-centric, and optimized for mobile.
If it’s confusing, difficult, or frustrating to give to your cause, you’re not starting your donor’s experience with your organization on a positive note.
A fundraising letter’s postscript is often the most-read section of the letter, so make sure it counts!
You can reiterate your call to action, thank the donor for their support, or choose to get creative with it.
Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the opportunity!
Looking for more ways to raise money?
To recap, to make your fundraising letters effective, you should:
- Put forward a quantitative, achievable fundraising goal.
- Tell an emotionally compelling story featuring a single beneficiary.
- Outline the problem/need and create a sense of urgency.
- Make the letter brief, simple, and easy to read.
- Specify how much you’re asking them to give.
- Link donors’ gifts up with tangible outcomes.
- Personalize the letter, center it around the donor, and thank your readers.
- Spell out exactly how your readers can donate and make that process easy.
Follow these steps and tips to create a fundraising letter that will bring in the much-needed funds to your nonprofit!
And don’t forget that there is more to fundraising than fundraising emails and letters.
When you send out your fundraising letter, you need to direct your reader to a way or a place to give. Ideally, this will be a donation page on your website.
To help you out with that, GiveForms lets you create a seamless online donation experience for your donors. Use GiveForms to embed a donation form on your website, allowing visitors to donate using a credit card, PayPal, Google Pay, or bank transfers. With a focus on intuitive, human-centered design, our goal is to help you increase your online donations.