There are countless books, essays and website resources that claim to have the best advice for writing effective fundraising letters. Many “rules” contradict one another. Some say a long letter that repeats your case is better than a short one. Others say keep it short and to the point.
NCF’s best advice is simply: Keep it real. And remember—we never ask for a significant gift (above $1,000) when sending out a a mass mailing.
No matter what style or format you use, there are seven elements that make every project fundraising letter more effective:
If possible, letters should be personalized. A “Dear friend” letter will probably not do as well as a “Dear Louise and Harry” letter. You should also be personal in the language you use. It should sound like you are really talking to someone. It shouldn’t sound institutional. You will need a good database of donor names and addresses in order to produce these kinds of personalized letters . . . or plenty of volunteer time!
- Paint a picture with words
Describe your need in a way people can really see it. Don’t just say, “senior center improvements” . . . say “a place where our elders can feel welcome and safe.”
- Identify a problem or opportunity
What problem or opportunity are you working on? (Hint: It’s not that you are trying to raise money!) Think back on your vision and mission. What kind of community are you trying to create? What is the barrier? Are kids hanging around with nothing to do? Does the community look shabby? Could your hometown use leadership training for young adults? Be careful here . . . do not create a long list of problems. Try to find a single theme to wrap your appeal around.
- Identify the solution
You are raising money to start an after-school program, enhance the streetscape to make it safer and more attractive, develop a leadership program to encourage young people to get involved with community affairs.
- Invite the reader to be part of the solution
The wording is “You can help…” Follow that with description of what their gift will do. How? By making a tax-deductible gift . . . If you can qualify the impact, that makes it much more real. Your gift of $XXX will cover the cost of replacing two inefficient and worn out windows.
- What they get in return
This may be a membership at a certain level, a newsletter, a listing in your annual report, but most of all, it is the feeling of being happy because they are:
- Thanks and praise
If they are past donors, thank them for their continuing support. They can feel proud to be helping to make their community a better place for their family, friends and neighbors. If they are not past donors . . . thank them for considering becoming part of a growing number of people who are investing in the future of their community for the family, friends and neighbors.