Successful Non-for-Profit Fundraising Letters Share Eight Qualities

Alan Sharpe

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You’ll be encouraged to know that the art of writing effective fundraising letters can be learned. I learned it. So can you.

Successful fundraising letters share a number of things in common. Once you know what these things are, your letter is already half-way written. Before I share what they are, let me explain what I mean by a “successful” or “effective” fundraising letter. I mean a letter that generates a gift, certainly, but I also mean a letter that builds upon the relationship you have with your supporters. You can easily craft a guilt-inducing letter that brings in a donation for now but repels a donor forever. Successful fundraising letters take the long-term approach, knowing that donors need to be nurtured and educated over time.

So here are some things that all successful fundraising letters have in common. Include as many of them as you can in each letter you write.

1. Is personal
Effective fundraising letters sound as though they are written by a human being, not an institution. Unlike grant proposals or special events, they are person-to-person pieces of communication. With the exception of a phone call, fundraising letters are the closest thing that you can get to a face-to-face meeting with a donor.

2. Is conversational
Again, unlike grant proposals and charity auctions, effective fundraising letters read like a conversation (though admittedly a monologue) between two people. Wouldn’t you agree that good letters involve the reader? Like you, I believe that effective letters involve the supporter in the message whenever possible without sounding contrived.

3. Is addressed to a person by name
Don’t send form letters to make friends. Friends don’t mail form letters. They send personal letters. Letters addressed to their friends by name. My wife never sends me a letter that begins, “Dear Friend. ” Neither do my friends. I realize that personalization costs more. But personalization is the right thing to do. And it boost response, which is a bonus you get for doing the right thing.

4. Describes the case for support in human terms
The best fundraising letters translate institutional needs in terms of people, not programs, remembering that people give to people to help people. So instead of saying “we need $10,000 for our general fund, ” a savvy fundraising letter says “our soup kitchen aims to help over 100 needy toddlers this Christmas Eve, and your gift today will make that possible. ”

5. Is donor-centred
The best-received fundraising letters say “you” more than they say “we. ” As Jeff Brooks, senior creative director at the Domain Group, says, “Donors are interested in you because of what you help them do. You are their agent in their personal mission to make the world better. That should be the topic of all your fundraising. Not the inner workings of the organization. Not the accomplishments of notable others. Not the need for raised consciousness or philosophical buy-in. ”

6. Asks for the gift
I’ve read letters that were so high-pressure that I kept my donation in my pocket. And I’ve read others that were so vague that I wasn’t sure if the sender wanted my gift-or expected it. In the fundraising profession, we say that if you don’t ask, you won’t receive. Which is a true statement most of the time, because sometimes you’ll receive gifts unsolicited. But with a fundraising letter, you need to ask for a donation, and more than once in the letter, if you expect to cover your costs.

7. Educates donors
The best fundraising letters leave donors better-informed than they were before they opened the envelope. They give donors more reasons to support your cause by describing how your organization helps its constituents, how a donor’s past gifts are changing lives, or in other ways reinforcing your case for support.

8. Appeals to the heart
Donors give to causes that win their hearts and their minds, usually in that order. Good appeal letters stir feelings of compassion, mercy, empathy, altruism and more so that the donor identifies with your cause on more than a cerebral level.

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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