Fundraising Letter Templates Harm Your Non-Profit's Reputation and Response Rates

Alan Sharpe

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Fundraising letter templates are a mistake. They insult donors. They mislead fundraisers. And they don’t work. You cannot generate sustainable income, build relationships and retain loyal donors by mailing fill-in-the-blanks letters. Here are some sound reasons for avoiding boilerplate appeals.

1. They are, by definition, too generic

On the website of one fundraising coach is a “very general donation request letter” that you are encouraged to customize by filling in “the details that are specific to your organization. ” The problem with this approach is that non-profit organizations are radically different.

What, for example, does Mothers Against Drunk Driving have in common with the Boy Scouts of America? What common goals does the Sydney Opera House share with The National Rifle Association? Could you take one “very general donation request letter” and customize it to meet the unique needs, case for support, brand image, voice and personality of each of these organizations? I think that idea is [fill in the blank] _.

2. They miss the main goal of fundraising letters

The goal of every appeal letter you mail is not to raise a gift but to retain a giver. You are after the donor first, their donation second. The most important gift in fundraising is not the first, but the second. You can twist a gift out of just about anyone, once. But getting subsequent gifts is where your challenge lies. And where you demonstrate your expertise. The big failing with fundraising letter templates is that they are after money only. Donors sense that attitude when they read the letter (assuming they do).

3. They treat donors as purses, not people

The only way I know of to get money without human contact is to use an automated banking machine. Bank tellers are personal. Automated banking machines are impersonal. Just walk into your local bank any morning and count the number of senior citizens waiting in line for a teller. They choose the human being over the machine because senior citizens are often lonely. They crave human contact. When you approach donors with generic, impersonal, copy-and-paste fundraising letter templates, you treat them as automated banking machines who should simply do as they are told and cough up the cash without delay. And who likes being treated that way? Not [pick one] me/you/us.

4. They mislead sincere fundraisers

The biggest problem that I have with fundraising letter templates is that they fool some fundraising staff into thinking that raising funds by mail is easy. All you need to do is “copy and paste the following text into your word processing program, ” “fill in the details that are specific to your organization, ” “print out the letters on your organization’s letterhead, ” and conclude your letter thus: “Today, you can make an immediate difference in the life of [homeless/orphans/etc. ] Each [$ amount] you send provides [specific goods/services] to [number of people]. ” Then you recline your office chair and wait for the mailbags of donations to arrive from your fervent donors.


Direct mail fundraising, like all fundraising, is about relationships, not revenue. And you can’t develop relationships built on trust and mutual respect if your fundraising methods are standard, impersonal and disrespectful. There are no short-cuts to long-term donor loyalty, despite what some publishers of fundraising letter templates imply.

New Handbook shows you a better way

The best way I know of to learn the craft of creating, writing and designing successful fundraising letters is not to fill in the blanks but to fill your head with examples of excellent letters that worked. Study successful direct mail appeals. Analyze why they worked. Put what you learn into practice.

Anatomy of a Profitable Fundraising Letter, the fourth Handbook in the Hands-On Fundraising Series, features a line-by-line analysis of a successful direct mail fundraising package that Habitat for Humanity mailed to prospective donors. If you use the mail to raise funds, this handbook will help you discover what to do right—and what to avoid. Learn more about this new Handbook at

About the author

Alan Sharpe is a professional fundraising letter writer, instructor and mentor who helps non-profit organizations raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors using creative fundraising letters. Learn more about his services, view free sample fundraising letters , and sign up for free weekly tips like this at


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