You know you have a good cause worthy of support, but writing a fundraising letter that convinces potential donors of this is not always easy.
A compelling fundraising letter is one of the most valuable tools in your nonprofit’s fundraising toolkit.
In this article you’ll find advice on how to craft the five major parts of a fundraising letter with examples, fundraising letter templates, and tips to help guide you.
Writing a Compelling Fundraising Letter
In order to understand how to write the perfect fundraising letter, let’s look at this sample fundraising letter from the Sunny Days Community Centre, which is looking to raise money for their breakfast club program.
Click on the image to download the fundraising letter template in word format (P.S. There are more templates below).
1. The Salutation
Personalize Letters – You never ever want to address your letter: “Dear Friend/Supporter.” Using a person’s name is important. In their eyes, it means the letter was intended for them, not just some supporter, so it makes them pay attention.
You can automatically personalize fundraising letters with donor information like name, address, salutation, and donation history from your nonprofit CRM software.
Using someone’s first name establishes a direct personal connection with them and will encourage them to read further. People are also much more likely to respond to charity fundraising letters when they are addressed directly – adding a name to mailers has boosted response rates by 30% – 140% in some cases!
2. The Introduction
Grab the reader’s attention – Start your letter with something that will captivate the reader: a bold question, statement or story of a specific person or situation that your charity has helped.
Telling a story and creating a scene is one of the most successful ways to get your message across. It gives the reader a glimpse into your world and reminds them why your mission is so important. Appeal to their hearts by giving your readers specific details about why the problem you are addressing is important and how your program is solving this.
Example: “We were frozen with shock, amazement, and fear all at the same time…
It had been a long and hard journey through Sudan, and at the end of it we were met by the frail, gaunt and starving bodies of children, teenagers, and adults all rushing towards us. Protruding rib cages and depressed stomachs. Legs as frail and thin as match sticks. It was the most shocking sight we had ever seen.
But with this sight came their smiles, their laughter, their cries of joy, and their warm embraces. Tears were shed on all our shoulders as we were hugged and thanked by many different people.
And suddenly, we all realized how much what we were doing meant to all these people!”
Update the reader on what their last donation achieved – Research shows that telling donors what their last donation achieved before asking for another gift is the key to holding onto your donors and moving them up the donor pyramid.
The extra personal touch also shows that your letter is not part of a generic mass campaign, but written only for them.
Focus on a specific program or initiative – Organizations that have multiple project areas may be inclined to include information about everything they do in one letter, but this is a mistake. Talking about everything is likely to overwhelm the reader and make them feel helpless or unable to solve your problems.
Instead, focus on a particular project or theme and provide details and stories to make it real for the reader. This will help readers feel like they can make a difference and do something positive quickly and easily – making them more likely to respond with a cheque!
Thank donors and tell them they are necessary – If you are writing to previous donors, be sure to thank them for their previous contributions and tell them that they are still needed; that you require their help to keep your services going.
Making donors feel valued and appreciated will build their commitment to your cause and can help convert one-time donors into regular contributors.
3. The Ask
Explain the cause – You want to leave people with the impression that it is absolutely critical that you continue to do what you do. In order to do that, you need to show that there is a need and that your organization is critical in effectively addressing that need.
Present your goal – Tell donors exactly what you need within a specific time frame to help them understand how their donations will be used and who will benefit. Without a clear goal donors won’t know where their money is going or how they can make a difference. Having a goal can give them a sense of purpose and might even prompt them to ask friends to contribute if they notice you’re really close to achieving your campaign goal.
Suggest donation amounts and what it will achieve – You should also list suggested donation amounts that are appropriate for the particular donor. Be sure to state the impact of the gift so donors know exactly what they are giving.
Example: “Your donation of $25 will feed and clothe a hungry child for a month.”
Detail the consequences of not acting – In order to show the donor that their donation is important, you may also want to state the impact of not acting. You have to be very careful, however, not to sound like you are overly negative. If the message focuses too much on such impacts, it will be a downer and will be much less effective.
Example: “Every donation is important and the need is always great. Without donations like yours, more children will have to go without; without shelter, food and clean water.”
4. The Closing
Thank donors in advance for their support – Make sure to thank donors in advance. It subtly assumes that they will contribute to the cause and shows that you have faith in them to do the right thing.
Tell them again why their contribution is so important – You may also want to reinforce here why you need their help and the consequences of not acting.
5. The Post-Script
Include an upcoming event or reinforce your ask – Did you know that postscripts are the most read part of your letter?
Unlike emails, donors will often look at the beginning of the letter and go right to the postscript. Make sure you don’t miss out on this opportunity to grab some attention by adding this section to your fundraising letter.
You can repeat your ask for donations or include information about a fun event or upcoming fundraiser that donors can attend.
Fundraising Letter Templates
If you’re worried about how to get started on writing your fundraising letter, we’ve got you covered! Here are four of the best fundraising letter templates for nonprofits.
Download these fundraising letter templates in Word format to use as a basis for your own fundraising letter.
Standard Fundraising Letter Template
(Click image to download in Word format)
Matching Donation Fundraising Letter Template
Corporate Fundraising Letter
(Click image to download in Word format)
Christmas / Holiday Fundraising Letter Template
(Click image to download in Word format)
For more fundraising letter templates, check out our free fundraising letter templates for every sector, including social services, education, arts organizations, animal shelters and more.
Get Your Fundraising Letter Templates Here!
Designing Your Fundraising Letter
More on designing your fundraising letter in: The Perfect Fundraising Letter Template.
Individual vs. Corporate Charity Letters
Many companies take their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies very seriously and donate a significant amount to charities every year. But getting a piece of this pie requires a strategic approach.
Most corporate fundraising letters are used to ask for in-kind donations, volunteering opportunities, or event sponsorships.
This is because many companies have policies around who they give to, and approvals can take a long time and involve multiple rounds of decision-making.
Since you can’t just walk into a company office and ask for donations, fundraising letters are a great way to introduce your organization and ask for something companies can easily contribute towards.
They’re often more than willing to donate in-kind and will happily give out spaces to host fundraisers. HR teams are also always looking for ways to engage employees so targeting them with a volunteering opportunity can be a great way to get your foot in the door.
Don’t expect companies to write a cheque as soon as they receive your letter!
Approaching them with smaller asks first can build a strong association between your organization and the company – and may result in long-term sustained giving.
Email vs. Direct Mail
So far we’ve been talking about fundraising letters (i.e. the ones you send through the post). If you’ve only been sending emails so far, you may want to think about including direct mail in your outreach strategy.
Direct mail can be an effective way to engage with older generations and Baby Boomers. Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), who account for almost 43% of all giving in the US, donate both online and through the post.
Neglecting to send letters means you’re missing out on a donation channel for a critical audience.
While email does have the advantage of hyperlinks and immediate donations, next time you’re planning your outreach strategy make sure to think through the benefits of direct mail. Are a lot of your donors older? Do you need to expand your pool of donors? Then direct mail might be a good fit!
Don’t forget to send a thank you letter – A fundraising letter that is received before an appropriate thank you letter, will not be very well received.
Therefore, always send a thank you letter after every single donation and within a couple of days if possible. While a fundraising letter is a good place to reinforce your appreciation, it does not replace the need for a thank you letter.
Choose your audience – Before you even begin to write a fundraising letter, you have to choose your audience. Are you writing to current donors? Is this an acquisition mailing? You also want to target your letters depending on the gift range. After all, donors giving $50 gifts will be interested in different information than donors making $5000 gifts. Targeting fundraising letters to particular audiences vastly improves response rates.
Make it a package – Always include a stamped return envelope and a reply card to make it as easy as possible to donate. The reply card should list gift options and also include a blank space so they can enter a different amount.
You may also want to give them the option of pre-authorized monthly payments.
Make it friendly – Write the letter as if you were speaking with a friend. Don’t worry about writing perfect sentences.
If it’s difficult to write or takes too long, you are thinking too much. Let the words flow from you.
Include a P.S. – Including a P.S. allows you to reinforce the message or to add additional information that ends on a positive note.
Make it authentic – Be sure to use a real signature from someone of importance in the organization and whom people will recognize. On the envelope, use real stamps and labels. Labels work better than peek envelopes which appear mass produced.
Suggest appropriate gift amounts – Targeting fundraising letters depending on past giving patterns is incredibly important since you need to be able to recommend appropriate gift amounts.
For instance, if someone usually donates $20, you might want to suggest $20, $50 and $100 and if someone usually donates $100, you might want to suggest $100, $200 and $500.
Do not offer gifts – offering items like t-shirts, mugs, and personal mailing labels as gifts for donating is a bad idea and has an overwhelmingly negative impact on people’s decision to give. (See “Research Shows New Dos and Don’ts of Fundraising”)
Why Write Fundraising Letters?
Now that we’ve told you how to write a fundraising letter, let’s get to why. Fundraising letters are an important way to connect with donors, get them involved with your cause and, most importantly, spell out your financial needs.
A well-told, powerful story can establish a strong connection between your organization and a complete stranger and is one of the main reasons fundraising letters are still so popular.
While direct mail has declined in recent years, it is still an important source of donations – especially amongst older groups.
A study by Winspire concluded that older generations (those born during the 40s or earlier) account for 24% of all giving in the US. Posting fundraising letters is an easy way to enlarge your pool of donors and include those who may not be tech savvy but could still contribute significantly to your cause.
Even if it doesn’t lead directly to donations, including material like stickers or postcards – that people will want to use! – can help get your foot in the door and prime potential donors the next time you make an ask.
The Best Time to Send Your Fundraising Letter
Fundraising letters can be a powerful fundraising tool. However, inundating donors with mail every month will likely cause them to stop opening your letters and send them straight to the trash.
Frequency is key. Create a strategy for your mailing campaign before sending your letters.
If you’re a puppy shelter you might want letters to reach your audiences during International Dog Day or when you are hosting an adoption drive.
It is best to send letters less than 5 times during the year that are centered around important days and events in your nonprofit’s calendar.
People are also more likely to donate during Christmas or Thanksgiving. Charity letters are particularly effective during the end of the year as this is also when people file their pre-tax season finances.
In fact, nonprofits get the most donations from individuals during these months, so make sure you’re sending letters during this time.