One of the most important tools available to any leader of a non profit organization is the fundraising letter. With a finely-crafted missive, the leader will be able to clarify the mission, excite the audience, and deliver on the stated need.
However, getting the letter to the point where it is “finely-crafted” is the hard part. I believe there are five key components that should be implemented to give your letter a much better chance of hitting its mark.
Before you begin writing, I recommend that you jot down a quick outline. This will help you plot your individual points, provide your supporting evidence, and generally keep you on track.
The outline should be broken down into five sections. These are: attention, interest, desire, conviction, and close. By following these five “guideposts” you are taking your reader on a directed journey, exactly where you want him to go. And fortunately, since this progression makes rhetorical sense, the reader will actually be happy to go along for this ride, as opposed to a letter that is all over the place and never really gets to the point.
Let’s break down each of the sections.
First, there is “ATTENTION”. This is where you really grab your readers. Give them something to chew on right away. Most of us read thousands of words each day, so the competition for our readers’ attention is great. Don’t mess around with long winded introductions- get right to the point. Use words and word-pictures that have real impact with the readers. In the case of school fundraising, I like to focus on the benefits to the children.
Let’s say, for instance, you were writing a letter in hopes of raising enough money to subsidize a trip to Washington D.C. for the eighth grade. I would start by writing:
Dear Parents, Our school has the amazing opportunity to provide your child with an incredible hands-on learning experience, right in our nation’s capital. For four days and three nights, our students will be in the epicenter of our executive, legislative, and judicial activity. With behind the scenes tours, meetings with our local law-makers, and admission to some of the most significant historical sites in our country, your child will have the experience of his or her life.
Ok, there’s the first paragraph. We were aiming for grabbing their attention, and I think we have it. We emphasized the benefits to their children and even touched on a bit of patriotism!
Next, we come to “INTEREST”. This is where we expand a little bit more on what we wrote in the “attention” paragraph. The goal is to raise your readers’ interest by more specifically highlighting the benefits and features of the event. By the end of this section, your reader should really be primed to hear your pitch.
To continue with the sample letter:
All year long, we have been studying how bills become laws, how our government operates, and how our democracy was created. By planning this trip to Washington D.C., we will be able to take this theoretical knowledge and breathe life into it for our students. Instead of just reading about the Library of Congress, we’re going to go there! Rather than just watching CSPAN, we are going to enter the U.S. Capitol and observe Congress actually in session! What better way is there to really learn about our country than to see it up close and in person?
All right, this is where we start to really sell, sell, sell. Your job in this section is to place such a strong desire for this experience in the hearts of your readers that they’ll do just about anything to make the goal a reality. To accomplish this, you only need to remind them of the idealistic things they already hold dear. Do this with the right stroke, and you’ve got them.
As parents, we know you always want the best for your children. You want their schools to be first rate and be able to provide them with only the finest instruction and guidance. We at Al Gore Middle School share this desire, right along with you. For years, the eighth grade has been making this annual journey to Washington D.C. And, year after year, we have witnessed first- hand how this experience changes lives for the better. This is truly a monumental event for our young people.
So far, we have excited our readers, we’ve got them genuinely interested in our cause, and we’ve done all we can to convince them that they, too, want what we want. Now it’s time to prepare them for the challenges that stand in our way and get them to commit themselves to the hard work that will certainly follow on our way to the goal. This is called “CONVICTION”.
But getting to Washington D.C. is never easy. Moving an entire grade of children is expensive and logistically difficult. Making this dream a reality is a daunting task, but it is also one that many parents before us have successfully undertaken.
Through our research, we have determined that this trip costs $400 total per child. This includes everything- transportation, lodging, food, and admission to all the sites. The only thing beyond this is spending money, which you and your child can determine privately.
$400 is a lot of money. We understand that this can be a burden to many. Therefore, we have a goal to help subsidize this amount by at least 50% per student. Between now and the time we leave for Washington, we plan to hold several mini-fundraisers within the community.
Your involvement with these fundraisers is vital. We need every parent of an eighth grader to volunteer his or her time to help us reach this overall target. This will mean planning meetings, committee meetings, volunteer recruiting, organizing, decorating, etc. This is a significant commitment.
However, when we remember why we are doing this, we know that in the long run, all the time and energy will be worth it for our children.
At this point, our hope is that parents are ready for the fight. They believe in the cause and are prepared to enter into battle. Now, they just need to know specifically what is being asked of them. In each school’s case, this might be different, but it is crucial to work in an effective call to action. And that comes in the “CLOSE”.
On Tuesday November 5 at 6:30pm, we are holding an organizational meeting in our school auditorium. We will be talking a lot about the upcoming trip, as well as how we plan to pay for it. We sincerely ask that at least one parent from each family come to this gathering. If you can not attend, we ask that you contact our school office, so we can get you all the pertinent information.
Thank you for your consideration of this journey, and we can’t wait to give your child the memories and experiences that will help shape the rest of their lives. See you at the meeting!
And that’s it. Now, please remember that I completely fabricated this above scenario, so some of the details may not make sense, but I wanted to illustrate the path a persuasive fundraising letter should take. Start with getting your readers’ attention, heighten their interest, stir their desire, strengthen their conviction, and close the deal with a call to action.
Plug your own specific information into this plan, and you’ll be well on your way to sending out a fundraising letter that will produce results!