I recently read a great donation request letter from Cristo Rey High School.  They are a Catholic, college prep school that provides a quality education for students from low income families.   Some of these kids may otherwise not finish high school and have an altogether different life, if it were not for this opportunity.

Now I’d never heard of this school before reading this letter, but it certainly brought out an emotional response.  Here’s the first half of that letter:

Cristo Rey High School students are energized to learn and ready to take advantage of their college-prep education. They have enthusiastic teachers; great classroom atmosphere, and plenty of school spirit. However, our students attend school deprived of one critical tool for their success: textbooks.

Each classroom has books for use while class is in session, but the students can’t take them home for additional study or to complete assignments. There just aren’t enough textbooks to go around. We want all Cristo Rey students to have the resources they need to maintain consistent academic performance. Will you help us meet this goal?

I was shocked at just the thought of a student not having their own textbooks.  How could that be? It’s one of those reactions where you say, “That’s just not right!”

Then I read the quotes from real teenagers struggling to learn without their own books. My anger turned to sadness.

“If we had our own textbooks, we could finish our homework, avoid detention and study better for tests and finals.” Rosa

“Having personal textbooks would allow me to become stronger academically.” Nicholas

I don’t want Rosa to have to go to detention just because she was not physically able to finish her homework.  How could she without a textbook?

Quotations from your audience – students in this case, or clients, volunteers or community members – can speak volumes.  Notice how in this letter the quotes relate directly to the subject of the paragraph above?  This is important to have a logical flow and reason for the quote.  It should not just be random.

No doubt, quotes can be overdone.  More than one or two can cancel out the impact you were trying to have.  If someone gives you a really long quote, just use the one or two sentences that are the heart of it.

The last half of the Cristo Rey High School letter then asked for donations specifically for textbooks.  The entire theme of the letter tied together, with the quotes as illustration.  Now I’m ready to donate.

Next time you are writing a fundraising letter, newsletter or brochure, consider how quotations can enhance your message.

P.S. I used this letter as an example when describing 12 Items to Include in Donation Letters. It is also included in the guidebook the 7 Essential Steps to Raising Money by Mail.

Posted on 06 November 2008

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