Fundraising letters sent through the mail are one of the most popular ways to request donations.   However, if you’ve never written a fundraising letter before, you may have lots of questions…

How do you start the letter? How can you persuade the reader to donate without being too pushy? What will make someone take notice of your cause and want to give? Who should the letter be mailed to?

This short guide will help answer some of your questions.

Choose the audience

Before you start writing the letter, be clear about who will be reading it. Knowing who will be reading the letter will impact your decisions later on about what to say and how to say it.  So if you haven’t decided on a target audience, do this first before even starting to write.

In general the audience will fall into one of two categories:

House (or renewal) mailings which are sent to your current supporters. After you have mailed to your donors a few times, you will get a good feel for your organization’s response rate. Some organizations have response rates in the 5 – 10% range while others have 25% or more.

Acquisition mailings are intended to acquire new donors. Typically, letters are sent to names from a rented or borrowed “cold” list with the hope that individual recipients will make a donation. Response rates on acquisition mailings can be quite low, usually less than 1%. Because of this low response rate, you will need to calculate the number of letters that need to be sent in order to reach your goals.

Create a compelling letter

Keep in mind that your goal is not really to write a letter. It is to communicate the essence of your mission and vision in an insightful and compelling way, so that readers will respond with a donation.

One of the most successful ways that you can get your message across is to tell a story of a specific person or situation where your organization has made a difference.  When writing a fundraising letter remember to include stories that will engage the reader, not just show off accomplishments. Take a look a these suggestions for attention getting openings for fundraising letters for more tips.

As you write remember to speak to the interests of the reader. So you have a great cause… why should they care? Appeal to them based on what benefits they personally receive from donating, either tangible benefits or the intangible sense of satisfaction they will have when they support a cause they believe in.  An effective writing technique is to address the reader directly by using the word “you”.

You’ll want to proofread your letter to make sure you have not left out any important elements.  Take a look at this letter template which describes all of the sections and important pieces of information that need to be included in a fundraising letter.

Make it easy to respond

Besides the letter itself, you need to consider and coordinate all the other pieces that are printed and mailed along with it.  A typical direct mail fundraising package consists of:

  1. an outer envelope
  2. a letter
  3. a response card
  4. a return envelope

The response card and return envelope are important elements of your mailing. These two pieces further encourage them – and make it super easy – to mail in a donation. The response card takes out all doubt in the reader’s mind as to what to do next, including how to make out the check, what level of donation levels are suggested and whether they can specify a particular project.  The envelope removes the hassle of figuring out where to send the gift.

Finally, if a reader wants to respond but for whatever reason cannot do so that day, it’s likely that they will throw away the letter and keep just the card and envelope.  In this case it’s even more important to have a response card.  It helps remind them why they wanted to donate in the first place.  Just the envelope may not be enough, especially if they are not current supporters.

A Step by Step Guide to Writing Fundraising Letters – Your Direct Mail Fundraising Campaign from Start to Finish

7 Essential Steps to Raising Money by MailI’ve collaborated with Sandy Rees, a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), to write a guidebook called 7 Essential Steps to Raising Money by Mail. Even if you have “writer’s block” or don’t feel creative at all, this new resource provides step by step instructions, ideas and phrases that will help unlock your inspiration.

Most of all, you will be able to communicate persuasively with current and potential donors and increase the number of financial gifts you get in return from your direct mail campaigns.

Find out more about this guidebook

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Posted on 11 March 2009

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EFI