chalkboardYou may have heard of the three R’s of education – Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Today we’ll look at what I call the “Three R’s” of Fundraising Letters and hear from one nonprofit who uses all three of these ideas.

1. Reading

In our case reading means being able to read, or understand, your target audience. Get to know the people who are most likely to respond to your letter.

Find out what motivates people to make donations to your particular organization. Is it a membership? Is it personal satisfaction of helping the cause? Discover all you can about how you can connect with your constituents.

Here are some ways to use better read your audience:

  1. Short surveys asking specific questions and for feedback. This could be a written survey, a discussion group or a few questions or checkboxes added to response cards.
  2. If your organization purchases a mailing list to find new donors, be sure that recipients are those who will be most likely to be interested in your organization by specifying location and/or interest groups.
  3. Mailings can be done for specific niche interests. For example, a humane society could send a special mailing to dog owners with a specific offer just for them.

2. Writing

While it’s easy to state the case of why your organization needs support, show the reader why it matters to them.  Speak directly to the heart of the reader, to his or her interests. What motivates them to be connected to your cause? How can they directly benefit from giving donations to help?

Effective writing techniques include:

  1. Personal stories from those who have benefited from your organization’s efforts.
  2. Quotations from volunteers, donors or constituents.
  3. Photographs – a picture’s worth a thousand words.
  4. Emphasize the benefits the reader receives by donating.

3. Relationships

Building relationships with donors, volunteers and the community is the most important thing that you do in any of your efforts.

A letter can help build relationships with your donors by demonstrating your organization’s effectiveness, thus showing that the reader’s past donations have been used wisely. Asking for feedback, informing about volunteer opportunities and thanking supporters for past donations also help to develop an ongoing, two-way relationship.

The Three R’s in Practice

An e-mail that I received from Dale A. Albertson of Quest Outreach Society, a hunger relief agency, illustrates all three of these points.

Hi Sandra,

You know we are not very adventurous with our fundraising techniques, and typically, we do the quarterly campaign letter with our Newsletter. We keep it grassroots, yet professional, with human interest stories, and a few facts and stats woven into a narrative. The campaign letter is bit of a tug on the heartstrings, mixed with a bit of success and lots of potential. We emphasize the multiplication aspect of donating to our organization – your donation goes further.

We see our revenues grow steadily with this approach. We know our constituents though, and this is the key. We have built relationships with them based on shared values and interests. There simply is no substitute for that. Our success is not an “exciting” read, it is methodical, strategic and planned.

We supplement fundraising campaigns with grants from foundations and companies, again, methodical, strategic and planned. This grows steadily as well, and some funders are now multiple year donors, with only a friendly reminder required to receive annual grants. These are also relationships that have been carefully built and nurtured.

I hope this helps, and all the best to you and your readers.


Dale A. Albertson
Director of Public Relations
Quest Outreach Society “Rescuing Food, Reducing Hunger”

As Dale’s description of Quest Outreach’s methods shows, the three R’s of fundraising letters often overlap and reinforce one another.

When you have a strong understanding of your audience, you can write in a way that speaks to their interests and desires. Human interest stories and evidence of your organization’s effectiveness strengthen the relationship with your donors.

When a person believes strongly in your organization and sees it as a partnership, they are more likely to be motivated to donate.

Posted on 17 August 2009

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