A compelling fundraising letter is one of the most valuable tools in any nonprofit’s fundraising toolkit. But writing the perfect fundraising letter is no easy task. There is both an art and a science to fundraising letters. Expect multiple drafts, revisions, and a whole lot of hard work!
The team at GivingMail would love to assist you. GivingMail is powered by over 70 years of experience in nonprofit direct mail fundraising. We’ve worked with hundreds of the world’s largest charities, raising millions of dollars! We can help you create effective fundraising letters in just a few easy steps and be in the mail in days.
When it is done right, a fundraising letter is so powerful. Great fundraising copy provokes strong emotions, inspires action from donors, and leaves the donors feeling good about sending in a contribution.
Here are some tips for writing the perfect fundraising letter.
Writing Style Tips
Use a Personal Tone
You may be sending your fundraising letter to thousands or even millions of people, but don’t write for the masses. A fundraising letter is a letter written by one person to one person. It should absolutely feel that way.
The very best copywriters imagine they are writing the letter to their grandmother, or another person who best matches the donor profile. In other words, you want to use a friendly and warm tone.
Remember to use the words “you” and “I” instead of “we.” A perfect fundraising letter will have a lot of “you” throughout. You can never say it too often!
You also want to use personalization whenever possible. Use the donor’s name throughout the letter, and reference the donor’s previous giving and any other information you know about them.
Be sure you clearly know who your audience is. You want to have a strong grasp of who a typical donor is: what they look like, how they think and feel, and what they care about. This will help you create a letter that speaks to the donor. You want the donor to feel like you know her and have written a letter just for her.
Use Emotion over Logic
The best fundraising letters are emotional and full of passion. You want to appeal to the donor’s heart rather than their head. You want them to feel something!
Facts don’t hurt, but they aren’t what will drive the donor to make the decision to contribute. Donors need to be moved emotionally.
Study after study has shown an emotional appeal is more effective in fundraising rather than using facts and statistics to make a logical case. In fact, researchers estimate that an amazing 80% of decision-making is emotional, and only 20% is rational. So don’t be shy about making the reader feel
You want the reader to feel like she needs to donate right now. Otherwise, donors are likely to put your letter to the side and come back to it later…which often means never.
A deadline is one way to add a sense of urgency to your ask. Words like “now” and “today” will also add a sense of urgency throughout your letter.
Make the Letter Very Easy to Read
Donors are intelligent, but they are also very busy! So you want to make your letter as easy to read as possible.
You want to write a letter that is at the 6th-grade level. Copy at that level can be read quickly and easily understood by all adult readers. There is a great online tool that is free called Hemingway. It will tell you the level of your writing and even suggest ways to improve your letter’s readability.
Short words work better than long words, and short, punchy sentences are more effective than long sentences. Wherever you find a long word, switch it out for a shorter one that anyone would know. And cut your long sentences into two, maybe three shorter sentences.
Don’t use internal jargon or acronyms. You aren’t trying to show off to donors, and they won’t be impressed. In fact, you will just end up confusing them instead…and a confused donor doesn’t donate.
Your letter should read like a conversation, not an essay.
When you think you are finished with your letter, have a colleague read it aloud. If he or she stumbles over any words or sentences, you know you need to go back and rewrite those sections.
Tips to Make your Letter Donor-Centric
Make the Donor the Hero
You hopefully already know and believe that donors are heroes. But do your fundraising letters reflect that?
Donors give because they want to make something good happen (or stop something bad from happening.) In many ways, your nonprofit is just the middleman that helps the donor to make the type of change they want to see.
Donors typically aren’t interested in the internal workings of your organization. They trust you to get the job done and don’t need to know about the nitty-gritty details that your internal staff sweats. Cut it from your copy.
Talk less about your organization and more about the donor and the impact she is having and will have with a contribution. You want the donor to feel like the hero she is, and be motivated to do even more!
Stories are truly the most powerful form of communication. They grab our attention and imagination, and, in the case of fundraising, help the donor see how they can make a difference.
People are naturally wired to listen to and tell stories; we have done so since the early days of cavemen. Stories communicate information better than other mediums, plus they are memorable.
The good news is that nonprofits, by the nature of their work, typically have powerful stories to share!
Remember that stories need a main character, a conflict, and a resolution. Be sure to include details that will help the donor visualize what is happening. Focus your story on just one individual rather than many. And, remember, the donor is the hero of this story (not your organization!)
Parts of the Fundraising Letter
An Engaging First Sentence
The very first sentence of your fundraising letter is incredibly important. Donors will very likely read the first sentence and then decide whether to keep reading, put your letter down, or throw it out.
So, your first sentence needs to be dynamite. It needs to pull the reader in. It could be a question, a surprising statement, or the beginning of a story. The first sentence needs to be something out of the ordinary that piques a reader’s interest and motivates her to continue reading.
Don’t forget to ask for money! This is a fundraising letter after all.
The ask needs to be clear and direct. This is not the time to be shy or vague in what you want donors to do. Remember, donors believe in your cause and want to help!
If you have a giving history for the donor, then be sure to use it to personalize the ask. It is a huge mistake to be asking a donor who has given $200 the same as a donor who has given $20!
Ask several times throughout the letter. You should have 3, 4 or more direct asks in your letter, including an ask in the PS. It will feel like too many but remember repetition works. Repeating your ask is especially important given how many of you readers will scan the letter rather than reading the whole letter word for word. Donors are busy people. So make it easy for them to quickly understand what you want them to do and how.
Don’t Forget the PS
The PS is the most read part of the letter. Use it wisely, and spend time thinking through how you can really make the language in your PS as strong as possible.
The PS gives you the opportunity to reinforce your message and make a persuasive ask. Always, always include a clear and direct ask in your PS. Remember, it might be the only part the donor reads!
Make It Easy to Scan
Most readers are going to scan your letter. Yes, some dedicated donors will read every single word, but the vast majority of your audience will read the first sentence, then read the PS, and finally scan back through the rest of the pages.
So, format your letter to make it easy to scan and still be motivated to make a donation!
This means using larger font size and an easy-to-read serif font. Keep in mind that donors are typically 60 years old or older, and their eyesight is likely not as strong as yours. No one should be squinting when reading your letter.
Other techniques to use to improve scanability:
• Bullet points or numbered lists
• Use white space between paragraphs
• Indent paragraphs
• Use sub-headlines
• Boldface or underline important parts
A perfect fundraising letter takes time and effort, but the payout is tremendous. In addition to the financial impact for your nonprofit, a great fundraising letter will bring donors closer to your organization and help them understand just how valuable they are.
Remember the tips above to keep your letter personal, clear, and easy to read. Use storytelling, emotion to help the donor feel like the hero she is, and be inspired to contribute.
The team at GivingMail stands ready to assist you. We are trusted by nonprofits nationwide to create, produce, and mail effective fundraising letters. We will save you time and money so you can focus on the important work of your nonprofit. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us today!