In Direct Mail Donation Request Letters, Ask, Ask, Ask

Alan Sharpe

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Did you hear about the couple that won the Irish Sweepstakes?

The husband enters the kitchen one morning and kisses his wife. “Darling, ” he announces, “we just won The Irish Sweepstakes, so we did. £5 million! But what are we going to do with all the begging letters?”

His wife replies: “Keep send them. ”

Paddy knew, as all professional direct mail fundraisers know, that the secret to success in raising money through the mail is repetition. You need to ask often, often during the year and often in your letters.

Each appeal letter you write should ask for a gift more than once, for a number of reasons.

Your donors are busy.
Your donors skim their mail, including your appeals. I hate to admit that, seeing as how I make my living writing fundraising letters. I am distressed to know that so many readers don’t relish every word I write. But then I don’t read everything that enters my mailbox either. I skim as well.

For the skimming donor you need to get to the point quickly. Particularly in a multi-page letter, you need to tell the donor that you are writing to ask for a gift. Don’t make your donor hunt through your letter page after page to discover your agenda. Say early on, preferably “above the fold, ” why you are writing.

Then repeat the ask somewhere else in your letter, so that skimming readers, if they miss your ask in one place, will spot it in another.

Your donors are distracted.
While they’re reading your letter they’re also preparing a grocery shopping list in their head, or checking their email, or watching CNN. So you need to make sure they hear you when you ask for the gift. So ask more than once.

I recommend that you ask at least three times in a two-page letter. Once on page one. Again on page two, near the top. And again at the end, before you sign off. You can also ask again in your postscript, if you still use those antiquated and contrived devices.

Depending on the tone and urgency of your letter, some of your asks can be hard asks (“Send your gift now”) and others can be soft asks (“Your gift today will do so-and-so”). Just make sure you ask more than once.

Learn more . . .

Learn how to master the art of making the ask with 101 Compelling Ways to Ask for Donations with Your Fundraising Letters. Handbook Number 6 in the popular Hands-On Fundraising Series helps you with one of the toughest things to get right in fundraising. Learn more at .

About the author
Alan Sharpe is president of Raiser Sharpe, a full-service direct mail fundraising agency that helps non-profit organizations raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors. Sign up for free weekly tips like this, and discover other helpful resources, at .


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