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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14 Comments For This Post

  1. Horace Ketchens says:

    I have purchased some of your books before. Since then my wife has been diagnosed with PICK’S Disease. There is a lot of information online if you want to read more about it. PICK’S effects the frontal lobe of the brain, so it effects everything, motor ability, speech, walking and more if that wasn’t enough.
    I am not asking that you give me anything. But I am looking for a couple of fundraising letters. One for donations fos an auction and one for just general donations.
    Do you have any ideas that may help me? I am sorry I just can’t afford to buy anything else at this time.
    Thank you in advance,

  2. Sandra Sims says:

    Hello Horace – It’s nice to hear from you. There’s a fundraising letter example / template on this page.

    I would also recommend this page Sponsor Focus & Creativity. Even though it’s not an item donation letter, there’s some really good information about how to go about getting item donations and sponsors in the article links. Unless you ask the right people and go about it the best way, a letter will not by itself secure donations.

    Are you planning a fundraiser for a PICK’s foundation or for your wife in particular? If it is for her then you may find this article helpful: Raising Money for Individuals with Health Conditions

  3. carly says:

    My mum owns one of your books and has used them for my high school fundraisers. But I have an unusual topic of interest. I am fundraising money, from people I know, so I can get enough money to get Permanent residency. I have no idea how to start a letter off with a topic like this. A question, statistics ect sound good, but im having trouble. I dont know how much information should be added to the letter and what specific information needs to be there. Any advice or help?

    Thank you,

  4. Sandra Sims says:

    Carly – You have an advantage that you personally know the people you are writing to. Just tell them your story – from your heart – about why you want residency and how it will impact your future. Let them know how much it costs and how much you are asking for. Send letters to everyone you know, even distant relatives. You may be surprised at who responds.

  5. Kathy says:

    If you know who you are writing to then write clearly

  6. Rosilyn Spencer says:


    I am a volunteer for Congregational Health Network ranned by Methodist Hospital. In the last planning meeting I learned that we are in need of thank you gifts for the volunteers that works during the year in various areas to make the organization a success. I would like to help bring in those gifts to show appreciation to my follow workers. Do you have a templates for that.

    Rosilyn Spencer

  7. patricia gast says:

    i have a son with mitochondrial myopathy, he is showing good results from hyperbaric oxygen therapy. i am an old mother my husband is retired. i have never asked anyone for anything, but we need financial help for my son’ therapy.
    please help me to get an idea of how and where to start. eternally grateful for any help!!!!! thank you mrs gast

  8. Sandra Sims says:

    Patricia – there are several articles here about how to raise funds for medical costs. Hope this helps!

  9. Danyel Davis says:

    I have invited a celebrity to come to my area to raise money for the Alzheimers Network of (State not publicized). I do not work for the Alzheimers Network, rather, I manage a division of a nation-wide HomeCare Agency. It is my agency that is holding this fundraiser, and I am needing some pretty significant donations in order to bring this celebrity here. The potential of raising a great deal of money, as well as recognition of Alzheimers in my State is tremendous. My question is: How do I find benefactors to pay his fee/costs AND would that money go directly to him from the donor, or through me? The Alz Foundation? The company I work for? I received the confirmation from the celebrity’s publicist, now I need a place to begin 🙁

  10. sunil kumar B.S says:

    i live in india, and under gone surgery of brain tumour,financially i’m not capable to get further treatment,as i’m married having a child and also cant able to look after my monthly family can i get help from your trust please

  11. Margaret Z. says:

    This has been very helpful, but how does one go about a fundraiser letter for a dinner to raise funds for a co-worker/friend who is battling cancer and is single and is now off work full time with only 60% of their paycheck to cover expenses? We want to help her out so she does not have to have that worry along with her battle. I just don’t know how to go about it. We are not a non-profit group just friends and co-workers trying to help her worry less on how she’ll pay the bill
    Thanks for your help.

  12. Harini.M says:

    Hai,goodafternoon myself harini,basically from India and Iam in search of fundraiser I really need some persons to help me I’m sick and I have got a brain surgery cause I had got hydatid cyst in my brain and the tissue has been removed. but I have lost my walk and I’m sick a lot.but due to financial problem I couldn’t have proper I was looking for a help.

  13. paul says:

    Hi; i am paul from cameroon and i intend to raise funds to help cameroonians which are sick and unable to provide for their medical treatment. so what is the procedure to take please

  14. James says:

    Thanks for the guides. I will share this to my group 🙂

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