Dear Friend: Don't Start Your Non-for-profit Fundraising Letters As A Stranger

Alan Sharpe

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Dear Friend:

Don’t do it.

Don’t start your fundraising letters with “Dear Friend. ”

After all, when was the last time you received a letter from someone dear to you, addressing you as “Dear Friend?” Never, right? The days of the Dear Friend letter are dead. So let’s bury the Dear Friend letter together.

I heard recently of a chairman of the board of a national charity who has given his charity millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of his time, yet he still receives their fundraising appeals addressing him as “Dear Friend. ” Ouch.

Your fundraising letters are intended to make friends as well as solicit funds. So don’t send form letters to make friends. Friends write personal letters. Letters addressed to their friends by name. My wife never sends me a letter that begins, “Dear Friend. ” Neither do my friends. And neither should you when writing to your donors.

I realize that personalization costs more. I know that you save money if you send everyone the same Dear Friend letter. You don’t have to insert custom fields into your letter. You don’t have to perform a time-consuming mail-merge. You don’t have to match the addresses on your letters with the addresses on your reply cards and mailing envelopes (assuming you are using closed-face envelopes).

You can compare your costs for mailing a personalized letter versus mailing a Dear Friend letter, and you’ll also find that the Dear Friend letter is cheaper. But I’d like to suggest, and so I will, that you are measuring the wrong thing.

Return on investment shouldn’t be your only criteria for measuring the success of your fundraising letters. What about donor loyalty? What about donor attrition? What about the lifetime value of each donor? What about plain old courtesy?

Donors stop giving for any number of reasons, but at the top of the list is feeling unappreciated. Think of that chairman of the board that I mentioned a minute ago. Can’t you just hear him saying to himself, as he receives yet another Dear Friend appeal, “I have given this charity millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of my time, and they treat me as though they don’t even know my name”?

Yes, Dear Friend letters are expedient. But expedience is not your only aim in running a successful fundraising letter program. Robbing banks is also expedient, but it’s not right. Using guilt as a motivator in your letters is also expedient. It raises funds in the short term. But it’s not right. And starting every letter with Dear Friend is more expedient than customizing each letter, but it’s not the right thing to do.

You should bury the Dear Friend letter because it is impersonal and rude. It alienates perfectly nice donors, people who will continue to support your organization with their treasure, time and talents if you will only treat them as partners and not as automated bank machines. Addressing your donors by name makes them feel special and appreciated.

At the Business Depot where I buy my office supplies, there is a store clerk who always remembers my name. She serves hundreds of customers. Yet when I approach the cash, she makes me feel like I’m a special customer. I feel a little flattered every time. Her name, by the way, is Allyson.

Specialists in customer service have long known that remembering a customer’s name—and using it—is one of the most effective ways (and free ways) to encourage repeat business, customer loyalty and free word-of-mouth advertising. The same is just as true in fundraising, although I have no empirical studies to back that up.

Please don’t start your letters with Dear Friend. Donors take it personally.

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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