Make the Ask: How to Write a Fundraising Letter

During the holidays, many people celebrate by getting together with family and friends, eating too much, exchanging gifts and drinking lots of hot cocoa. In the nonprofit world, the end of the year usually also means sending a fundraising letter to your supporters.

Before you fire off another letter asking people to support your nonprofit, review these tips to increase giving rates and make your constituents feel more like part of your mission.

Know who you’re asking

When you send out a holiday card, it goes out to your family and friends. You don’t have to reintroduce yourself and tell them about where you went to school, the name of your significant other and about that one time you lost your passport in Tijuana. They already know you.

The same goes for your fundraising letter. There should be a different style and tone to an acquisition letter to new donors and a renewal letter. A renewal letter should include how you’ve used their last donation, what good you’ll do with another donation and why there is urgency in making a donation at this time. Also, don’t forget to include a message of gratitude to express thanks for the gift they’ve given in the past.

If you are writing a letter to people who don’t know you, get more into the basics. Explain who you are, what you are doing, why it matters and why you need their support. Like the renewal letter, you should explain what the urgency is for a gift at this time and what difference it would make.

Make it about them

My favorite part of the holidays is watching friends and family open up their presents. While getting gifts is also pretty sweet, nothing beats when someone opens up a well-thought-out present. If you make the giving about other people it makes it more enjoyable.

When you are writing your letter it is easy to talk about the amazing things that you do as an organization, i.e. “We helped feed 5.4 million children last year.” However, the focus should be on what your donors helped you accomplish. “You helped us feed 5.4 million children last year.” According to the Ahern Test, you should use “you” twice as much as you use the terms “I” or “we.” If you keep the focus on the difference the donors can make, your letter will resonate more.

In addition to the message, personalize the mailing so it is not only about them but also to them. Learn the tricks of a mail merge so you can include their name in the greeting as well as other parts of the letter. You can also segment your mailing lists and add specific messages for different groups. The more you personalize the letter, the more the readers will connect with the message, and in turn, be more likely to donate.

Stay focused

Sometimes it’s easy to get too wrapped up in the chaotic times of the season. You’ve got parties to go to, gifts to buy and elaborate seven-layer dips to make. Whatever your focus is this holiday season, it can get lost in the business of the season.

Don’t let your letter get caught up in all the craziness of what your organization does. Every letter should have two items in it: an ask and the most important thing that you want to communicate about your organization.

If you are sending a letter to make an ask, don’t forget the ask. Include examples of how much money will help your organization. You don’t have to be overt about it, but reinforce the idea that a donation will help your organization multiple times throughout the letter.

For the most important thing about your organization, think about the central message you want to convey and focus on that. Often, this will be a story about all the good you’re doing or a statistic about how much impact a donor can have our your mission. Stay on message and hammer home the great work you’re doing (and how this donor can contribute).

With everything going on this time of year, don’t let your fundraising letter get lost in the shuffle. If you write a great letter, you’ll see more benefits for your organization and a greater return on your fundraising letters.

Originally published 12.15.2015—Updated 11.2.2018

Fundraising Letter

Lincoln Arneal

Lincoln Arneal was a Senior Editor at Nonprofit Hub who brought loads of real-world nonprofit experience to the team. He was the past executive director of a nonprofit that provided leadership development to junior high and high school students. He looked to bring the insights from his time forming, developing, and running a nonprofit to help others in their quest to do good. Lincoln also had a legal background and had written for various newspapers (covering high school sports) for the past 15 years. He could be followed on Twitter at @NPLNK.

November 5, 2018

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