How to Write an Impactful Fundraising Appeal Letter
The fundraising appeal letter is one of the oldest methods for garnering financial support for your cause. Nonprofits have been sending out appeals like these for generations.Whether you plan on utilizing physical donation letters or digital donation emails, there are right and wrong ways to go about writing and designing them.
In this article, we will cover:
- What is a Fundraising Appeal Letter?
- Digital or Physical Letters: Which one is better?
- 5 Tips To Write an Effective Fundraising Appeal Letter
- Fundraising Appeal Letter Example
- Final Thoughts
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What is a Fundraising Appeal Letter?
A fundraising appeal letter is typically a one-page letter to your past and potential new supporters. It consists of a few paragraphs outlining things like:
What your nonprofit does
Why your organization needs funds
How supporters can donate
A good fundraising appeal letter also thanks supporters for their contributions, past and future, and can even highlight some of the successes your organization has had with past donations.
Tristan is excited to learn about fundraising appeal letters!
While the term fundraising appeal letter is a general term for all letters to supporters, there are a few specific types, categorized by when they are sent or what they are trying to accomplish. Some examples are:
Donation Request: A donation request is a term that describes the process of requesting donations from an organization or business. Sometimes it is a letter, sometimes it is just an online form.
End-of-Year Donation Letter: Almost a third of all donations made to nonprofits over the course of the year are given in the last few weeks of December. An end-of-year donation letter seeks to leverage this fact by giving supporters that final push and reminding them about your organization's cause.
Holiday Appeal Letters Fundraising Samples: A holiday appeal letter goes out during the few-days span around a given holiday. If your organization is hosting a holiday-related event, it is a good idea to write a holiday appeal letter along with the invitation.
In-Kind Donation Letter: An in-kind donation letter, naturally, appeals for in-kind donations. An in-kind donation occurs when goods or services are donated instead of liquid funds.
Lapsed Donor Letter Examples: A lapsed donor is someone who has given to your nonprofit in the past (typically, within the last three years), but for some reason has not donated in the last 12 months. Lapsed donor letters seek to bring these individuals back into the fold.
Each kind of donation letter serves the same overall purpose: fundraising. There are best practices that are specific to each one. Of course, before you learn those, you will need to know the best practices for the most general version, the fundraising appeal letter.
Digital or Physical Letters: Which one is better?
The very first thing to work out when drafting your fundraising appeal letter is the format. There are two options to consider: physical or digital.
Sending a Physical Letter
When a potential donor receives a letter in the mail, you can pretty much guarantee they will at least read the top line. This is one of the most important pros of sending a physical fundraising appeal letter.
This is because, even when a letter is obviously not from someone the donor knows personally, curiosity gets the better of them. This fact gives you the opportunity to create a really impactful first line (or subject line, or headline) to get the reader’s attention before they throw it away. Although you generally then have to spend more time crafting a unique and captivating opener, you also tend to have more space on the front or back of a physical letter to get your message across than you do with an email.
Notably, it takes most donors more time to ponder, then throw out a tangible letter than it does for them to delete a digital one. Everything seems to move slower in the real world. It is so easy for people to highlight a bunch of messages in their inbox they want to delete at once just to get rid of all the clutter; they barely have to consider your email if they are in the mood, most chiefly, to turn chaos into order! And that is if they even look at their email in the first place. Physical letters, on the other hand, are liable to garner more of their attention, and thus more of their consideration, given the fact that they are firmly planted in the aforementioned "real world".
Sending a physical letter is also a more formal way to approach the potential donor. It can highlight the importance of your cause and make it more likely for your message to stick.
With a physical letter, you can include separate materials in your envelope to help drive your message home. For example, if your organization provides blankets to impoverished children, you can include a small cut-out of one of the blankets to give a real-life, tangible twist to your letter, or photos of people your organization has helped.
Emily is thinking of all the possibilities between digital and physical letters!
The drawback to sending a physical fundraising appeal letter is that it is more expensive. Between paper, printing, envelopes, and postage, you will be spending as much as $1 per letter.
Sending a Digital Letter
Typically sent as an email, a digital fundraising appeal letter is cheaper than sending a physical one. Depending on your email provider, it may even be free.
Digital fundraising letters require a lot less legwork too. While a physical letter requires going to a printer, stuffing the envelopes, addressing them, and then taking the letters to the post office, an email is sent with the push of a button.
Many nonprofits even automate donor letters with nonprofit management software. If you have a database of email addresses from past donors, event attendees, or newsletter subscribers, you can draw up a donation letter and have it sent to everyone on the list automatically.
The primary drawback of a digital fundraising appeal letter or email is that it is harder to get your reader’s attention. When someone receives an email, their eyes only glance over the subject line before deciding whether to open it or scroll past it. And this usually occurs amongst a sea of other messages also vying for your recipient’s recognition.
If you plan on sending a fundraising appeal email, check your organization’s email health with websites like MyToolBox or Lemlist. You certainly do not want to spend all that time writing a good letter just to have it land in people’s spam boxes.
Pro Tip: You do not have to choose one or the other: emails or direct mail. Feel free to mix different media. For example, you can send a postal letter to your regular major donors and to people you want to make a bigger impact. For the rest, perhaps an email will do the trick.
5 Tips To Write an Effective Fundraising Appeal Letter
Now that you have a format picked out, it is time to get started writing your fundraising appeal letter. Here are 5 tips to create a donation letter that sticks out and boosts your chance of success.
1.) Make Your Fundraising Appeal Letter Personal
Never start any kind of letter with "To Whom It May Concern". Use your recipient’s name! You can easily achieve this level of personalization with donor email software; you do not have to spend hours on end manually inputting each of your supporters’ names at the beginning of each email. You should also aim for personalization throughout your fundraising appeal letter. Potential and new donors respond much better when they are addressed individually, rather than as members of your donor pool.
Use "you" frequently; speak directly to your supporters. Phrases like "your support" and "your help" serve to highlight the fact that your donor truly is playing a critical role in the work that your organization does. By addressing them personally, you are turning on some part of their brain that is more powerful, and much deeper, than that accentuated by the unremarkable, vague, and off-putting statement "we need donations".
2.) Segment Your Audience
Segmenting an audience means changing your message slightly to fit it in better with different types of recipients. To do this, you will need to create a few categories and then sort your audience into the ones that fit them best.
For example, you might divide them into one-time donors and recurring donors, and then change the messaging slightly between them such that each is recognized for their contribution and encouraged to continue to do so in different ways.
Segmenting your audience for a fundraising appeal letter can increase your overall response and donation rate.
3.) Emphasize Support, Not Money (And Say Thank-You As Much As Possible!)
Asking for money too often can make people less likely to give - unless you really emphasize how much their support helps, thank them, and do so frequently.
Your organization brings about amazing change because the hearts of those involved - your staff members, your volunteers and other supporters - are all in. Everyone who brings your vision to life does so with the intention of bettering the lives of others, and the world at large. As such, you should never feel guilty about requesting donations. And the best way to ensure that your kindhearted and well-meaning disposition comes across every time you inquire about them is to always emphasize how grateful you are, and how truly consequential these donations can be. That is, how much they genuinely make the difference.
It is true that donors often give to charity because they want to further the cause your organization represents, not because they necessarily want to help your organization itself. But by building a relationship with your supporters through the proper channels (emails, letters, and in person if possible), your organization can figure strongly in their minds because they know they can trust you.
And this calls into play authenticity, transparency, and integrity. People want to know that their donations are actually creating an impact. So if they trust your organization to be that guiding light, to act with the virtues mentioned above, then they will care about supporting your nonprofit specifically.
Always focus on conveying, with intention and sincerity, that without your donors’ help, both monetarily and symbolically through their support, you would not be able to thrive as an organization or as a creator of change. Frame every fundraising letter primarily in the context of your organization being the vehicle through which their money benefits the mission you all care so much about; it shows humility and puts you on the same level, like you are all striving for one mission together. That really is the most important thing anyway.
4.) Facilitate Donations in a Practical Way
One of the most important steps in creating an effective fundraising appeal letter actually comes after you have crafted the letter itself.
Matthew is loving all these tips!
Once your donor reads the awesome message and is ready to donate, things can go one of two ways. They can either see very easily how to donate, or they will have to look around for a way to donate by searching your organization, browsing your website, or rereading the letter.
You certainly want the former to happen, since it can boost your donation rate by a pretty significant amount. There are a few ways to do this effectively:
Include a Donation Envelope
In a physical fundraising appeal letter, you can include a small envelope inside the main envelope with your organization’s mailing address preprinted on it. All your donor has to do is slip in cash or a check, seal the envelope, put a stamp on it and put it in their mailbox.
You can even prepay their postage so they do not need to dig around in that junk drawer they just know they threw their stamps in.
Add a QR Code
You can create a QR code for just about anything now. Add one in that connects to your organization’s Paypal or another payment screen so your donor can quickly scan it to find out where to donate.
This strategy converts a physical letter into a digital payment method on their phone, in which many people already have their payment information saved. In just two steps, your donor can send any amount they want to without going to the hassle of sending a physical donation back to your organization.
Add Suggested Donation Amounts
This is most applicable to donation requests made online. Adding suggested donation amounts removes one line of decision-making for donors. Removing the need to make a decision, in any persuasive context, is proven to increase the success rate.
Simple $10 increments are a good way to go, but you should also consider structuring your suggested donation amounts exponentially. People tend to characterize purchases (or donations) in their own brain levels: $10 is a small donation, $50 is a heavier donation, $250 is a lot of money, and beyond.
Giving suggested donation amounts of, for example, $10, $50, $250, $500 and $1,500 can increase your overall donations by allowing people to sort themselves into these amounts by how much they want to, and can, help your cause.
5.) Spend Time On Design
Whether you are sending an email or writing a physical letter, the design is just as important as the message.
For a physical letter, make sure to use high-quality paper or even card stock. This bulks up your envelope, which should be clean, crisp, and textured, and makes it more likely for potential donors to want to investigate further.
For an email, add some visuals or videos to further demonstrate your cause and the need for funds.
In addition, for both physical and digital fundraising appeal letters, make sure your organization’s logo is proudly placed somewhere visible. Again, you do not want to make your organization the focus, but your branding should be there to help donors remember you for future purposes.
Make sure to use short digestible paragraphs, rather than a wall of text.
Fundraising Appeal Letter Example
Now that you have seen some of the best practices for writing a fundraising appeal letter, it is time to check out an example. Below is a general example or template you can follow when writing your fundraising appeal letter.
Dear [DONOR’S NAME],
[Anecdote about a specific case of your cause.]
Every year, [STATISTIC ABOUT YOUR CAUSE]. Your continued support helps to alleviate this. Without the generosity of donors like you, [ANOTHER STATISTIC].
In order to continue helping thousands of [your beneficiary group], we urge you to consider donating. You can find a QR code [or button] at the bottom of the letter that will bring you to our online donation page.
Your donation, and others like it, can help [FINAL STATISTIC].
Thank you for your continued generosity.
[Organization President or Other Authority]
[BUTTON: Donation Amount 1]
[BUTTON: Donation Amount 2]
[BUTTON: Donation Amount 3]
This template can be tweaked to suit the type of donor it is going to as well to suit your organization’s specific mission and goals.
After you receive a donation from someone during the course of a fundraising campaign, remember to send them their donation receipt as well as a thank-you letter for their donation. Remember to look over the list of 501(c)3 donation rules so you can ensure you are in compliance with your tax exempt status.
Fundraising appeal letters are one of the most important ways for your organization to raise money. There are many different types, such as holiday appeal letters and lapsed donor donation letters, but all of them seek to accomplish the goal of fundraising.
Be sure to make your fundraising appeal letter stick out by personalizing it to each recipient, segmenting your audience, facilitating donation methods, focusing on design, and emphasizing support over money.
Use a template to cut down on your drafting time, but remember to make it unique to your cause. Following these steps will supercharge your next fundraising appeal letter and make it that much more effective!
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💡What exactly is a Fundraising Appeal Letter?
A fundraising appeal letter is either a physical letter or an email sent to potential donors asking them to donate. There are several kinds of fundraising appeal letters you can use depending on its target audience or the time of year you send it. Find out more.
🔑 What’s the Best Media for Your Fundraising Appeal Letter?
Physical letters can be more formal and convey more importance, while emails allow for embedded videos and tend to be cheaper to send. Ultimately, you can use a combination of the two to increase your success rate. Find out more.
📝 How To Create An Efficient Fundraising Appeal Letter?
Make sure each letter is personalized for each recipient. Your physical letter should come on a sturdy, important-feeling paper while a fundraising email should include embedded media and buttons. Facilitate donations by making clear and providing links for your accepted donation methods. Segment your audience by type so a few different versions of your letter can be optimized for each group. Finally, emphasize the act of supporting your cause, rather than funding your organization. Find out more.