Friday, September 18, 2009

9 Tips for Effective Fundraising Letters

A friend recently wrote to ask:

"Do you have any resources that offer tips on how to write an effective appeal for donations? I'm in charge of writing the annual appeal letter, and I'm beginning to sweat!"

I've never written a fundraising letter, except for the note I wrote to my Facebook pals asking them to donate to my Birthday Wish Cause, but here's some advice from other folks about how to write effective fundraising letters:

The Chronicle of Philanthropy's article, Dear Fund Raiser: Your Appeal is Boring, reports that as part of his doctoral studies, Frank Dickerson, "analyzed more than 1.5 million words of online and printed fund-raising texts to determine how effectively fund raisers communicate with their audiences." His conclusion: fundraising letters are often cold, boring, and academic when they should be warm, friendly, and full of engaging stories.

Tip 1: Be warm and friendly.
Tip 2: Tell stories.

In her post on eJewish Philanthropy, How to Write a Powerful Fundraising Appeal: A Lesson from Keshet, Gail Hyman posts a long list of tips including:

Tip 3: Use a personalized greeting (i.e. Dear Britt).
Tip 4: Bold key phrases to make it easy for readers to scan the letter.
Tip 5: Have a clear call to action.

In her post, Marketing 101: How to Write a Fundraising Letter, Katya Andresen of Katya's Nonprofit Marketing Blog, analyzes the first lines of three fundraising letters. Katya advises, "an A+ letter grabs you from the first line by speaking to your values and presenting you with a compelling reason to act that is relevant to those values. It feels personal."

Tip 6: Make your first line(s) count.

Joanne Fritz's article, How to Write Better Fundraising Materials on about Tom Ahern's book, How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money is full of good advice including:

Tip 7: Use lots of photos.
Tip 8: Share something new the reader might not know (i.e. a statistic, or an emerging trend).
Tip 9: Answer readers' questions (i.e. How will my money be spent?).

What other advice and/or resources do you have for my first-time fundraiser friend?

Cross-posted from

Flickr photo credit: Money, Money, Money uploaded by borman818

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  1. As someone who served as a college president for eight years, I can testify that a handwritten p.s. addressed to the specific name of the person or couple, including details of appreciation for them, concern if they are having difficulty, rejoicing when they win prizes, etc., works miracles and will be remembered for years afterward--as will your writer's cramp if you do 500 such notes twice each year.

    I used a good fountain pen and blue ink. No way was this a form letter! We raised $2 million each year. The notes were just part of the story, but I'm convinced they were a big part. Good files notes and staff work help the CEO with this task.

  2. Great article as always! I'm Tweeting it because 'tis the season for fundraising - and we can all do better.

  3. Thanks for the advice, Shirley, and thanks for the tweet, Katya!


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