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- Begin by considering both your audience and your specific plans. What will appeal to your readers? What might shock them, surprise them, anger them, or compel them to really feel the urgency of your request? Are you writing to existing donors or new donors? Why does your cause touch their heart? On a piece of paper, scribble a few preliminary thoughts:
- Why do my donors care about this cause? How are they personally touched by it?
- What story can help my donors feel emotionally invested in what we’re doing?
- Do I want donors to offer specific donation amounts, or can they help by donating time or donations of books, baked goods, or other items?
- Consider inserts or add elements to your letter to help show your readers what your organization does and how important it is.
- Show pictures of those who are helped by your organization. Visually make it clear how your organization improves lives.
- Consider inserts such as a copy of a news article about your cause, reminding readers what you’ve done recently.
- Add quotes from those your organization has helped. Ask people what difference you’ve made, and then let readers know about it!
- Share stories of how you organization has helped people, or the situations you’ve seen that caused you to want to help. Tell a tale about success to inspire, or dramatically describe what you saw when you came to help. Share what is possible and how great the need is. Create interest and make your donor a hero, because that’s what they are. Storytelling has an important place in the realm of fundraising letters – and stories can inspire, engage, and excite. Convert statistics such as numbers served by a food bank into stories about people donors can care about.
- Use writing that stresses the benefits of donations and clearly articulate how they are used to improve quality of life and other elements. Remind donors how every little bit counts and how their donations are used responsibly. Donors will be inspired by the successful work you’ve already done and how they can help do more of it, rather than depressed by how much work there is to do.
- Don’t be afraid to describe members of your fundraising team either. How did you get started with fundraising? Did you have a child with special needs and find your organization invaluable? Did you find this organization while looking for a new pet to bring home, and found yourself impressed by all the help given by volunteers? Why did you choose to become part of this team? Describe the relief or support you were given when you first came to the organization for help, or describe a team member who inspires you. Let readers know so they too can understand how crucial and worthwhile your organization is.
- Make incentives clear. Where applicable, do mention the draw donors will be entered in or that a free gift is involved. Otherwise you can still highlight the intangible benefit of feeling good about giving, and emotionally appeal to possible donors. You want to make it clear that there can be a real emotional value to giving to those in need and reinforce the feeling of appreciation that you have for donors. If you are emotionally invested your readers want to know why; that way they can become emotionally invested as well.
- Make it as easy as possible to donate, including sending a self addressed stamped envelope (SASE) where appropriate. Make any other available contact information such as your website and telephone number easy to find so people can learn more about your fundraising effort, ask questions, or inquire about alternative ways to help. Use a friendly tone and keep in mind that you want to develop a relationship with donors.
- Where appropriate, consider news headlines and tie them into your fundraising campaign to catch the readers’ eye. For example, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) used this technique effectively when Paris Hilton was charged with driving under the influence. By using the headline “Help MADD Stop the 500,000 Paris Hiltons” they drew immediate attention, and then they offered cold hard statistics about driving under the influence to underline the wide-spread reality of drunk-driving. The effect was dramatic and yet personal as a name and face were given and tied to those affected by drunk driving, and donors were drawn in by the chance to help stop the number from climbing. Consider using a headline that refers to popular media or recent news to quickly draw attention and understanding from your readers.
- Consider your full fundraising program, which should consist not only of a one-off letter, but may involve a thank you letter or a later solicitation for another donation. A short thank you note can make a world of difference for drawing repeat donations, and really reinforces appreciation for what has been given. That said, don’t include a reply envelope with every mailing as if you’re just desperate for another donation. Chances are readers will feel better about giving when they don’t feel pestered rather than truly valued for their current contributions. If possible you may also call donors personally to thank them. Donors who feel appreciated and good about their contribution will donate again in the future, and although it goes without saying you are thankful, it is always good to hear the words.
- Thank you letters should be addressed by name to the individual, as should any subsequent mailings where possible. Remind donors that they are valuable people, not just names on your bulk mail list.
- You should also consider other readers in your full fundraising program, and how you can appeal to each type individually. For example, for those you wish to donate again, do not send out “Annual Renewal” application forms that seem bulk mailed, impersonal, and automatic. Readers annually renew such things as taxes or insurance, and do not want to feel as if bulk mailing an application is more important to you than repeating a statement of appreciation and giving an update. Use your donation records to generate updates that are relevant and help remind donors how they have helped since they last donated.
- Share stories of success since the last donation, and highlight new members of the team and why they are emotionally invested in your organization too. Give people a reason to donate again, don’t just assume they’ll want to file a renewal. Donations are a gift, not an account to annually renew, and should be treated as such. Use quotes and heartwarming tales to remind people of the good your organization does.
- Do not feel the need to restrict fundraising letters. If compelling, they will be read even when they are more than a page long. A good selection of real-life stories showing the benefits of your organization can be enjoyable reading for possible donors when they feel their donations can lead to more happy endings. This is not the time to appear dry, impersonal, or overly efficient rather than personal and heart-felt.
- Show how specific donation amounts can be directly tied to a benefit. For example, “your gift of $5 will buy Anna and her family supper this Christmas season”. Include these suggested amounts in the reply form. Donors often appreciate this so they know their donation will make a tangible, specific difference that they can visualize. This helps build an image in their mind of the good they are doing by helping out. Include another blank line for individually written amounts.
- Offer a monthly credit card charge option, such as $10/month, which would be $120/year. This helps reinforce the feeling that your organization’s efforts are ongoing along with making charitable donations a little easier on the pocketbook year-round.
- Inspire and reinforce action through your choice of verbs and using the term “you”. Tell donors how “you can help” and how “we’re there for you”. Don’t bog down your letter with the organization’s problems, instead focus on the positive change your donors create by actively helping. No one wants to be depressed by how much work is to be done rather than being inspired by how much they can do.
- For follow-up mailings, focus on the support provided by the donation, not the money or amounts. No one wants to feel like a bank machine, but donors will want to feel like everyday heroes. Furthermore, invite readers to visit your website or call for more information should they be interested to learn more about what you do. The idea is to foster a feeling of friendship rather than of bank teller and customer.
- Also when appealing to a possible repeat donor be sure to thank them once again for their past contributions by highlighting some of the benefits they have caused by helping out. If a separate thank you letter is not part of your fundraising package, be sure to express appreciation straight away in follow-up donation requests.
- If possible use your fundraising database to personalize letters for repeat donors even further by reminding them of their last gift. This will encourage them to make the same gift again this time along with further reinforcing the feeling that they are respected as valuable contributors rather than just another name on your list.
- Send donors of large gifts a specialized letter. As it wouldn’t make sense to ask past donors who gave $20 to now give $1000, it doesn’t make sense to ask past donors of $1000 such donation options as $25, $50, $100, and so forth. If possible offer a tiered program for donors such as “Platinum Contributor” and so on, with a longer letter containing a slightly more formal writing style.
- Include a deadline date by which funds are needed to encourage readers to donate quickly. Busy lives mean letters not responded to immediately may get lost in the shuffle.
- Use a serif (“footed”) font in at least size 12pt or up, with inch wide margins and double-spacing, to keep your letter easy to read and inviting. Choose high contrast colors for text and background, with your text in a dark color and the paper in a light one. Investing extra time to lay the letter out nicely can help suggest a professional image, reinforcing the idea that your organization is careful, thorough, and organized. Ensure you leave a big space for signing the letter personally at the end of the letter. This suggests a personal touch of honesty and genuine care while maintaining legibility of your name and position.
- Consider setting your fundraising letter envelope apart by using a non-standard size, an eye-catching graphic, or a teaser that will draw the reader to open and read further. Consider using a font and ink color that give a handwritten look to the envelope. But avoid using multiple photos or high-end copy paper; otherwise it may look like you spend donations on printing goodies.
- While sub-headings and clear fonts can make your letter more readable, avoid the use of too many fonts or too many attention-grabbing devices such as colored words, italics, or fonts. You want your letter to appear personal and honest rather than gimmicky or as if you’re advertising a sale.
- Use a unified style for your letter, envelope, reply envelope, and other elements such as thank you letters and repeat donor letters. This helps build a brand that will stay in your readers’ memories as well as helping them keep all parts of the fundraising letter package together.