How to Write Fundraising Letters That Motivate Donors To Make Donations to Your Non-Profit

Alan Sharpe

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Motivating strangers to give their money away is one of the hardest jobs around. It’s difficult to do face to face. And it’s even tougher to do in a letter. But it can be done. And your chances of receiving gifts in the mail increase once you employ some of the tested methods that are used by leading non-profit organizations around the world.

Make your message relevant

Your appeal letter needs to talk about what’s important to your donor. Like you, donors listen to what interests them. They watch what interests them. And they read what interests them. There is no reason that what is important to you and what is important to your donor cannot be the same thing.

Let me give you an example of an organization who got it wrong. A national association raises awareness, provides services and supports individuals affected by diabetes. Research shows that just about every one of their donors either has diabetes or knows someone close to them (father, wife, brother, cousin) who does.

And yet this national organization continues to mail appeal letters to its donors describing diabetes in the most basic terms. “Over two million people in our country have diabetes, ” said a recent letter. “Approximately 10 % of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes, ” said another. ”

If you lived with diabetes and donated to this organization, these appeal letters would be irrelevant to you, wouldn’t they? First of all, you already know about diabetes. And secondly, you don’t care that “Approximately 10 % of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes” as much as you care that you have it. What this organization needs to do is start writing fundraising letters that speak to their donors where they are now.

That means crafting letters that help their donors live full lives even though they have diabetes. That means positioning themselves in donor’s minds as the single best source of information for people who have or are affected by diabetes. Doing that would increase their relevance-and their donations.

By making your fundraising letters more relevant to your supporters, you will stand out amidst the many appeal letters that your donors already receive from other charities.

Use “make-a-difference” language

Donors act like investors when they give their money away. They want to know that their gift will produce a return on investment, however intangible. What you are aiming to do with “make-a-difference” language is show why the world is a better place because of your organization.

In my local newspaper each Christmas, for example, a men’s shelter runs a small display ad that features a photo of a homeless man seated at a dinner table at the mission, eating Christmas turkey. The headline reads: “Christmas dinner: $2.75. ” The message is clear. Give a gift of $2.75 and you’ll show compassion in a practical way to a homeless person this Christmas. You can literally “picture” the difference your donation will make. Try to paint a picture like that with each fundraising letter you drop in the mail.

Empower your donors

Ever heard of “donor fatigue?” It’s the phrase that fundraisers use to describe the feeling of hopelessness that some donors get by reading fundraising appeals from dozens of worthy causes. The weight of the world’s troubles produces in some donors a sense of futility, believing that their small gift can’t possibly change the plight of so many people worldwide.

The way to prevent donor fatigue is to write fundraising letters that empower your donors. “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, ” says Jeff Brooks, senior creative director at the Domain Group, a direct marketing firm that serves non-profit organizations.

Show how past donations are at work

Another powerful motivator is proof that a past gift made a difference and continues to do so. Tell the story of the toddler whose life was saved by the speedy reactions of a nurse. Describe how two bikers left a life of crime and gave up drugs thanks to the intervention of your volunteers.

What you are aiming for with the printed word is the “feel-good factor. ” “When we communicate with our donors, we need to continuously let them know how their gifts make the recipients feel. That sense of making a meaningful difference in a needy person's life or helping to make a needed change in the world is the gift we give our donors, ” says Jeff Nickel, group vice president for Grizzard Signature Group, a direct response fundraising agency.

Appeal to head and heart

Many donors are ultimately motivated by their emotions more than their intellect. But to attract and keep loyal donors, you need to appeal to both head and heart. You need to write with passion, appealing to each donor’s sense of compassion and empathy. But you also need to write with clear-headedness, too, mentioning that gifts are tax-deductible, explaining how much of a donation goes to programs and how much covers administrative expenses, sometimes listing the rational reasons for supporting your cause, and so on.

Raising funds by mail is not a science. Methods change because society changes. People change. But these principles have worked for decades, and still do. Put them to work in your next campaign and see what happens. Drop me a line and let me know how you get on. Reach me 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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