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Write an Effective Fundraising Letter in 14 Steps

By Alice Feathers, M.A. TESOL, Professional Editor and Writer

1. Consider the size of your paper.
The standard 8 by 11-inch sheet of copy paper looks professional, business-like--and impersonal. In a fundraising letter, you want to make a personal request for a contribution--a friendly appeal for help from one person to another. If possible, use paper the size of personal stationery: 7 by 10 inches.

2. Can you use a logo?
We have never stopped liking pictures since we were children and first learned to read. Does your organization have a logo? If you put a logo on the envelope, on the stamp and/or on the letter, you will attract more interest and your letter is more likely to be read--and remembered.

3. Start with a personal hello.
Write the letter as if you were sitting down and personally explaining the situation to a friend. In order to do that, you should use the prospect's name in the salutation. With computer-generated letters and email marketing , it won't be difficult to insert the name of the addressee in every letter that goes out. If this is not feasible, at least use a term that suggests what relationship this person should have with your organization:

Examples: Dear Margaret:
Dear Mr. Benson:
Dear Fellow Conservationist:


4. Write an interesting opening line.
Get the readers involved immediately with a personal reason they should support your organization, a short illustration that shows the serious nature of the problem, or a "thank you" for a previous contribution.

Examples: As a small manufacturer, you face unfair competition . . . .
I want to tell you a story about a little girl . . . .
Thank you for your generous contribution last year . . . .

5. Develop the readers' interest.
Continue the story or reasoning you began with, giving the readers enough information to understand the situation and what they can do to help alleviate the problem.

Separate the new prospects from those who have contributed in the past. Explain to past donors how much good their contributions have already accomplished, but that there is still much to be done. Impress your readers--include dates, facts, and/or statistics. Be careful, though. People will lose interest if your letter is too long.

6. Choose your format and your font carefully.
Indent each paragraph and double space between each one--it's easier on the eye, so is using a serif font such as Georgia or Times Roman. A serif font is one that has small horizontal lines and flourishes on the tops and/or bottoms of the letters that help carry the eye along and make the task of reading easier. Arial is not a serif font. The use of bullets and numbered lists rather than long, informational paragraphs also help readers scan and comprehend information easier. Don't make your paragraphs too long--five lines are a good length, but don't make any paragraph longer than seven lines.

7. Emphasize the positive.
Using "no," "not," and "never" can register in readers' minds and make them think a cause is hopeless. Turn your language around to show the positive influence money can have on a negative situation.

Example: Your contribution to our medical fund can help pay for needed treatment and make the difference between life and death . . . .

8. Include the date for a timely response.
You don't want your letter to get lost in the pile of non-urgent mail. You want it to be in the pile of bills that have specific due dates. State exactly when you would like to receive the donation or imply an easily understood deadline.
Example: Please share the many blessings you will enjoy on Thanksgiving Day. Help us plan a fitting banquet for the children of St. Joseph's by sending your donation today.

9. State the specific amount of your request.
Fundraisers sometimes think that if they state a specific amount, they will discourage higher-income donors from offering more. In reality, most people only want to contribute the standard expected amount, somewhat like tipping in a restaurant. If you suggest a specific, reasonable amount for the contribution, your readers are more likely to contribute. They can write out their checks or make a contribution to your credit card merchant account for that amount and feel satisfied they have contributed their fair share to feed the hungry, help save the whales, or to aid whatever cause it is you are supporting.

State the specific amount of your request towards the end of your letter after the readers have read all the information necessary to understand why funds are needed and how much their personal contributions will help alleviate the problem.

Example: Your donation of $25.00 will feed and clothe a hungry child for a month.

You could also include response cards with check boxes for the requested amount and two additional options--both larger amounts. Your readers can then choose the amount that fits their budgets and offers them peace of mind as well. For example, a reader might think: "If a donation of $25.00 will feed and clothe a hungry child for a month, I will feed and clothe him for two months!"

10. Explain how the readers should make out their checks.
The simpler you make the process of contributing, the better. Explain exactly how you want the checks made out to avoid any problems cashing them later on.

Example: Just make your check out to "Books for the Children," and return it in the enclosed envelope.

11. Thank the readers for being willing to help.
If you thank the readers for their help, this presupposes they actually will and continues the positive attitude of your letter.
Example: Thank you so much for being willing to help us. Your check will provide care for retired and worn-out circus animals on their new wildlife preserve.

12. End the letter politely and sign it.
You want the readers to understand that this request is coming from a flesh-and-blood person, and not from an impersonal organization. End the letter warmly, make four returns, then type your name. Sign your name in blue or black ink (or use a cursive font) in the space in between.
Example: Please accept my sincere thanks,
Jonathan Wilson
Jonathan Wilson

13. Don't forget to add a P.S.! Traditionally, writers used a P.S. to add something they forgot to put in their letters. In a fundraising letter, however, a P.S. can be an effective place to rephrase your donation request or perhaps invite readers to consider donating a lesser amount (rather than nothing at all). In fact, studies have proven that readers often go to the P.S. before they even read the body of a letter.

In a computer-generated letter or HTML email, it would be easy to use a font in the P.S. that mimics a hand-printed note, such as Andy. Make this font one or two steps larger than your text font. This would add a final reminder that your letter is coming from a living person.

Example: P.S. If $25.00 is too much for you to pledge at this time, would you consider pledging $10.00 or $15.00 instead?


14. Include a return envelope.
Make it easy for the readers. Don't expect tired and busy people to find envelopes and address them to you. You are more likely to receive a response if you include a pre-addressed envelope for the contribution. Decide whether or not your organization can afford to include a postage-paid envelope but, if not, at least include an envelope with your name, followed by your organization's name and return address.

Best wishes in all your fundraising efforts!

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