Writing fundraising letters can be daunting. But especially at the end of the year – we can’t and shouldn’t ignore direct mail fundraising. Almost 30% of charitable giving happens in the lead up to December 31st each year. But nonprofits don’t write letters geared towards compelling their supporters to act, which leaves money on the table.
This isn’t surprising. Nonprofit leaders spend the bulk of their time writing to a very different audience — partners and colleagues. This is what they should be doing, as this means they are moving their mission-focused work forward. But this professional audience has its own “industry speak” – a language full of acronyms, statistics, and (if we are being candid!) lots of fancy jargon.
Using this same language in donor communications is the quickest way to ensure your fundraising letter will fall flat.
Unfortunately, most small nonprofits struggle with staff capacity. The year-end fundraising appeal often falls to the back burner due to pressing mission-oriented work.
If this all sounds like you – that’s okay. There are simple ways to make sure your fundraising letter still makes an impact on your readers, even if you feel behind in getting started.
I’ve put together a quick guide to writing a great fundraising letter that anyone can put into practice. Regardless of staff size, the CRM database you do (or don’t) have, or the size of your mailing list – this guide will work for you.
First things first – block off a few hours for focused attention and writing time on your calendar. Undivided focus is the first step to writing a high impact end-of-year fundraising appeal.
Now let’s get to writing. You’ll start by pulling together the components of your letter:
Start with the story in mind. The hardest part can be getting started. Instead of trying to get words on a page, start jotting ideas down for the story you’ll focus on within the letter. For most impact, you’ll want to focus on a single individual. Even better, hone in on the transformation or change of state that the individual experienced.
Draw on emotions – and show the need. As mission-driven organizations, it is natural to show all the good we have done. But if we are too positive, donors unconsciously don’t end up seeing the need to give. Highlight the need that exists and your readers will be more compelled to support.
Make the ask as concrete as possible. This is a fundraising request, so please make sure there is a fundraising ask in the letter! With that ask, make the number as specific as possible. The more specific the number, the more donors will be able to tie their gift to the individual transformation you laid out for them. Rather than “$50 for transportation costs,” try “$47.50 for 10 weeklong bus passes.” The donor can easily picture the 10 REAL people they are supporting — rather than giving to a nameless transportation fund somewhere.
Spend time on your PS. Yes, this seems like an afterthought. But when readers open and read a letter, their eyes usually jump right to the PS. Write your PS as if it is the only thing in the letter your reader will actually read.
Now, put all the components together. Congratulations – you’re halfway there!
With your draft complete, ask yourself the following:
Am I writing in simple, short sentences and paragraphs? This is where so many nonprofits get hung up. They write academically for their peers and partners. This is not how you want to write when speaking to your donors. You can use the free Hemingway app to identify complex and confusing sentences and rewrite them. Aim for a 6 – 8th grade reading level!
Am I using the word “you” more than the word “we”? This is probably the most common tip given when writing fundraising copy. Are you focusing on the person reading the letter, or is your organization the center of the content? Focus on the reader – make it about them and the impact their support will provide. This will engage your readers and supporters far better than a focus on your organization’s accomplishments.
Design for easy readability and skimming. How do you read a letter when you open it at home? You don’t read every word line by line. You skim the things that pop out at you. Write and design your letter for the reality of how people read mail. Have a friend look at it and ask them what the first 3 things they noticed or read were. Those 3 things better be your most impactful and important sentences!
And finally, the most important thing to remember:
Nonprofits fear burdening or annoying their donors. And yes, you should be connecting with your donors outside of when you are asking for support. But if you don’t give people the opportunity to support you, they’ll never know what you need. So, spend time crafting an effective ask. Send those letters off with pride. The work you are doing is well worth the support from your audience. You got this!
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