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How to Write Compelling Fundraising Letters

Here are the 3 things your fundraising letter needs to accomplish

A fundraising letter does three essential things: (1) details a need or cause; (2) tells the recipient how they can contribute to that cause; and (3) thanks the potential donor for their continued support. Fundraising letters typically ask for money or supplies, but you can also use them to enlist the help of volunteers.

We were inspired by United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County’s “Backpack to the Future” school supply drive. Their fundraiser has it all: a fun name, well-defined goals, explicit asks, and a heartfelt appeal to the community. We’ve included examples from UWABC’s campaign to illustrate best practices so that you can exceed your fundraising goals and generate ongoing support!

Organizing your Letter

Fundraising letters are generally short and snappy, so try to keep it under 500 words. We recommended the following outline:

1. Begin with a story

Did you know 72% of charitable gifts come from individuals? Those who volunteer and donate are more likely to be emotionally driven to support a cause than your corporate donors. The best way to capture their hearts is through stories.

Make sure the stories you are collecting are truthful and relevant. The best way to do this is to interview people who are involved in the effort — a parent whose child received school supplies, or a principal of a local school served by your fundraiser. Those who work closest with the cause at ground level (or recipients of your donations themselves) will have the most insight into how donations are already having a positive impact. Collect these stories and decide which will appeal to the emotions of your readers.

Remember to keep anecdotes brief. The point is to captivate your reader before asking them to give. Your story, or emotional appeal, should only be a few lines long:

“Eight-year-old Jeremy loves school. But when his mother received the long, expensive list of school supplies, she began to worry, ‘Will I be able to afford everything Jeremy needs to succeed?’”

2. State the problem

What issue are you addressing? Accessible education for girls? Endangered species? A safe drinking water initiative? Be specific; use numbers if you can. You have engaged your readers already, so you can now give them the facts. For example:

“Each new school year, many families struggle to provide their children with the necessary school supplies. This can disadvantage those children, both socially and academically, from the start” (Source: United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County)

Here, the problem is stated clearly. Problem statements allow readers a clear understanding of why your organization is important.

3. Communicate your goal

Now that you’ve presented the problem, state your goal. Be specific, and include a time frame if you can. If your fundraiser wants to address the 3 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean, your goal may be “to reduce plastic in the ocean by 5% by the end of next year.” You can also mention the efforts that are already taking place, and then follow with a call for continued support:

“We have always believed that children should only have to worry about coming to school and learning. Since 2007, our School Supply Drive has allowed more than 9,700 students to walk into their first day of school fully prepared.” (Source: United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County)

4. Ask

Now is the time to ask your reader for their donation; emphasize that their contribution is necessary to solve the problem. Include specific donation amounts and what their donation will contribute to specifically. People tend to give because it feels good, so follow with a sentence communicating the impact they’ll have!

“A calculator costs $10. A backpack with pencils and notebooks costs $25. A full backpack with all supplies costs $45. Every dollar helps us give these kids a jump start to a successful school year!”

If you’re sending a fundraising letter, you’re likely to require donations ASAP. Create a sense of urgency, and communicate why their donations are needed immediately, as in the following example:

“School starts soon! Please, donate now so that every child has what they need on their first day.”

Tip: Try to avoid using asking for “support” — a word that’s a little too vague and may not communicate what you’re requesting. If you want money, ask for money. Instead of writing, “Your support can help us achieve our goals,” try “Your donation of $45 provides one child with a backpack full of the supplies needed for the first day of school”. Specificity is key here.

5. Thank your donors

Next, thank your reader for their contribution. Individuals tend to give back because it feels good to do good, so it’s important to show your appreciation. If your donors have given before, express sincere gratitude for their continued support.

“On behalf of our community, thank you for your contribution. Last year, you helped send over 2,000 children to school with the supplies they need to succeed.”

“Your contribution helps to ensure that each student has an equal opportunity to success”.

6. Provide donations logistics

Give a bulleted list of how to donate. This list should include the web addresses, phone numbers and mailing addresses required to make donating as easy as possible.

You’ll also want to suggest donation amounts. Make these amounts feasible for your readers. If your letter’s audience typically gives $20, suggest $20, $50, or $100. If they typically give $200, suggest $200, $500, or $1000. You can use donation data to segment your audiences by donation amount to improve your response rates.

7. Sign your letter

End your letter with “Sincerely,” followed by a signature. A signature makes your letter seem more personal and genuine.

More to consider

Use simple, powerful language

Complicated, magniloquent language can be intimidating (we don’t recommend using words like “magniloquent” either). You don’t need big words and fancy adjectives to tell a powerful story. Keep your sentences concise and approachable. There’s a real person at the end of your letter!

Make your letter skimmable

While your fundraising letter is something to be proud of, “skimmers” are inevitable. In other words, not everyone will read each and every word of your letter. So, make sure all the important information stands out. Important information includes the cause, how much you are asking for, and what (specifically) their money will contribute to. In addition, you may want to consider:

  • Featuring a bulleted list (where appropriate). Readers are often drawn to bullets. Plus, they’re too the point and efficient.
  • Using bolded, colored or underlined text to emphasize certain words, phrases or sentences.
  • Including white space: Surrounding a key piece of information with line breaks and white space helps to draw the reader’s eye to the section.
  • Keeping paragraphs to under 7 sentences. Large paragraphs can seem daunting and information can get lost.

Even if the recipient only skims your letter, they’ll still be able to understand precisely its purpose.

Make it personal

Instead of beginning with “Dear Friend,” insert the recipient’s name. They’ll be more willing to contribute if they know the money is going to a genuine, detail-oriented organization. Plus, there is software to help generate your letter with the names on your mailing list, so you won’t have to sacrifice efficiency!

Also, don’t be afraid to address your audience directly, using “you”. In fact, we encourage it! Make your letter about the donors and their impact on the community, rather than your organization’s accomplishments.

“Your donation can give children the opportunities they deserve.”

Not only will readers understand the impact their donation will have, but they’ll feel good knowing they’re helping improve the lives of others.

Include an image

We all know a photo is worth a thousand words. If you’re trying to raise money for school supplies, include a picture of happy kids with their new backpacks! Individuals like to see who or what they are impacting, and where their donations are going. Plus, smiles are contagious!

It’s important to keep in mind the goals of your fundraising letter: to raise funds for an important cause. If you’re in charge of this year’s fundraising letter, don’t be afraid to write from the heart. You care about the cause, and chances are this will come through in your letter. Don’t forget to employ a little common sense, too; think about the information your audience wants to know and needs to receive in order to donate. Happy fundraising!

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