8 Tips for Writing Successful Fundraising Letters
Updated: Oct 2, 2021
Fundraising letters are the lifeblood of most nonprofits. Effective letters can ignite support, while boring letters can kill donations. Discover eight secret rules for writing effective fundraising letters here.
Running a nonprofit can be rewarding, and yet you cannot avoid the need for fundraising. You can apply for grants and master the art of grant proposals, but studies have shown that grants make up only 30% of the income for most nonprofits. What do we do about the remaining 70 percent? While there are multiple ways to do this, one method is to write a killer fundraising letter. May it be hard copy sent through direct mail, online newsletters, or email, we need to make sure we send out effective letters. Keep these 8 tips in mind before you craft your next fundraising letter.
Your Donors are the Heroes
You need to make sure your audience understands that they are the heroes. Make little noise about how awesome you are (even though yes, you are the one doing the work.) Making this mental switch alone will dramatically impact your fundraising letters. Naturally, we have the impulse to establish our cause, cement our credibility, and instill respect in our readers. But this alone will not transform your potential donors into active donors.
Prospective donors need to read your letter and see how they can be the hero. Take note of the times you are writing about how your nonprofit solves the problem, and switch that around about how your donor can solve the problem.
"'Save the Kittens" works tirelessly to make so sure every kitten is loved, cared for, and safe."
It is ok, but it is mostly about the nonprofit and the general population of kittens. We need the reader to understand that they can save the kittens, so let's say instead:
"You can save the kittens in your neighborhood so they are loved, cared for, and safe through your monthly donations."
See? They save the kittens. How? By donating to your cause.
Make it Easy to Read
Successful fundraising campaigns must be easy to read. You are shooting for about 6th-8th grade reading levels. This is not to insult our donors, but rather to acknowledge that they are busy. People are constantly facing one campaign after another, all urgent and loud simultaneously. Do them a favor, make it easy to read.
You are not here to make them think harder but to comprehend quickly. You may have an awesome vocabulary, but if you can use a more common word, use that one instead. Focus on short sentences, effective adjectives, and clearly lay out your key points. Bullet points are great to use, as this increases readability.
One little trick is to underline key phrases. We need to write our letters assuming they will be scanned through. Underlined phrases provide an entry point for the reader to jump in, and ensures our readers will get the key points.
"We instruct young adults how to think with pragmatic idealism and premeditatedly interact with the world's ecosystem at large as entrepreneurs"
It is an impressive sentence, with some lovely vocabulary, but most will read this and think, "huh?" Instead, you can simply say:
"We teach kids how to think like entrepreneurs"
"Oooooohhh, ok. I get it now." 😅
Use a Personal Tone
Focus on writing directly to your reader, use personal pronouns and write with a personal tone. Your donation request letter is not a place for neutral or elevated rhetoric, even if your nonprofit has lofty ideals and goals. This circles back to readability and your donor as the hero: this is accomplished by making it personal. You will increase your fundraising by focusing on adding a personal touch to every letter.
"With enough donations and gifts from our donors, fewer kids will go to school hungry."
It is a good fact, actually a really awesome fact! But... it lacks a personal touch. Rather:
"Kids in your community go to school hungry and unable to focus on their studies every day. You can stand in the gap with us and make sure that doesn't happen."
Here you aren't just talking about kids going hungry, but kids right here in your neighborhood, and notice how the funder is the hero. Always the hero.
Tell a Story
If I could make this article about this alone, I would (and maybe I will someday!) Human interest is captured through story. Your readers need to be able to insert themselves into the narrative through the insight you provide through story.
This can be accomplished through various avenues. You can create a story through a client your nonprofit helped, clearly explaining what life was like before they received assistance and how your nonprofit transformed their lives. Use strong narrative tools, engage the five senses and convey suspense and high stakes.
Another avenue for a story could be through your volunteers. One of the amazing characteristics of a nonprofit is the involvement of volunteers. They are not only superstars but have close contact with your cause and can provide amazing insight through story.
Instead of telling your reader you helped five woman move out of poverty and secure housing, pick one and tell her story. Interview her, and let your reader get to know the hurdles your organization helped her overcome. Always center around the element of storytelling.
Promote a Cause, Not a Charity
Recent studies have shown that 90% of Millennial donors are motivated to give by a compelling mission, rather than a specific organization. This reveals that the incentive is centered around the causes. We see this easily in the wake of disasters as 41% of worldwide donors give in response to natural disasters. In fact, some are so quick to give they often do not check the organizations they are giving to, verifying the money they send actually makes an impact.
Use this fact as a reminder as you write. You are writing for a cause on behalf of a nonprofit. Focus on the cause, and use your charity as the avenue to invest.
"'Be the Solution" helps students of all ages in every school overcome bullying"
Now, let's switch it up so we focus more on the cause:
"Bullying is a huge reason for students dropping out of school and impacts their ability to learn, not only creates physiological impacts on our students. We provide tools to stop bullying and support the victims."
A lot of readers have a history with bullying in one way or another, and they will more likely dive into your nonprofit on that fact alone. Lead with the cause.
Keep Your Copy Positive
Bad news sells. This is a hard fact, and a huge reason why every time you turn on the news all you hear is how the world is falling apart. While you do not want to promote everyone to just bury their heads in the sand, you want to make sure your future donor believes your organization offers hope. Your nonprofit exists in response to bad news. Charity exists because of a problem. But you need to focus on how your nonprofit is the catalyst towards the solution. Make sure your fundraising letter provides hope.
But Remind Them of the Stakes!
We want our fundraising letters to cast a ray of hope, but we cannot forget the need to create a sense of urgency. Without a sense of urgency, our readers will not be motivated to give. Our letters need to clearly raise the stakes and make it very clear what will happen if they do not donate.
For most nonprofits, the stakes are pretty clear, as most nonprofits originated in response to a problem. But is there a specific need you can focus on in this fundraising campaign? Nonprofits that serve the homeless population for example could focus more on individuals living in freezing temperatures in the winter versus the summer. You will want to also give a clear timeline for their donations, as this will prompt them to donate sooner than later. Integrate this throughout your letter, and create a clear sense of urgency.
Include a Clear Call to Action
Asking people to give their money can often feel uncomfortable. Because of this, we have a tendency to craft a beautiful letter that is personalized, with a strong narrative, and a clear sense of urgency... without a call to action. Sure we implied the need for donations, and good grief they can clearly understand we need money because why would you send them this letter, it should be enough, right?
Nope. You need to ask for a donation. Very clearly, and often. Studies actually show that when you make your “Donate” button stand out on your website it can result in a 190% increase in donations. Wow. Maybe your letter is not on a website, but you can create similar results through your hard copy as well. By the end of the letter, they should understand what they need to do to donate, with a clear call to actually do it. Provide easy ways to do this. If you are sending out letters, provide a return envelope. If this is an email, have an easy button that sends them directly to your donation page.
This applies to anything you ever do and write for your nonprofit. Consider it unfinished without a call to donate, and make it obvious.
Write That Fundraising Letter!
Remember, your donors make what you do possible. They are the invisible hero in this operation, but never make them feel invisible. Do the hard work of crafting the fundraising letter and give them the opportunity to work with you. You are not forcing people to give, you are providing a chance to give. May it be through donations or volunteering, you need your community to come alongside you. Let your writing evoke them to action, and keep making a difference.
I am Danielle Hamlet. I am a virtual assistant who specializes in content marketing with a passion for working for nonprofits. You get someone who can take on your busy work but also rock out SEO. I would love to talk and get to know you and your business, book your call today.