Donor request letters remain one of the most effective ways to solicit donations for a nonprofit cause. But if your letter isn’t executed properly, you could miss out on a lot potential funds.
Even at a time when email marketing is cheaper and increasingly simple to manage, old-fashioned snail mail still makes a big impact. A letter in the mail feels more personal, and it physically ends up in the hands of your potential donors, whereas email often gets deleted or filtered to spam folders before ever being read.
In an article for NonprofitPRO.com, nonprofit strategist Karen Taggart shares some revealing industry findings about direct-mail vs. email fundraising:
- Direct-mail campaigns generate higher initial response rates
- Donors who respond to direct mail ONLY tend to renew at higher rates than online-only donors
- Direct-mail donors are more likely to be institutional donors “who support your cause, not just a single issue”
Does this mean you should ignore email entirely?
Absolutely not. The most effective strategy is to run your fundraising campaign across multiple channels (i.e. mail and email) and adjust efforts accordingly based on what works best for your organization.
That said, your letters need to be effective to attract the maximum donations possible. Here are some essential tips.
Personalize the letter.
Use your existing donor information to merge the actual names of your recipients. By writing a generic “Dear Sir or Madam” or “Dear Supporter,” you significantly increase the chances of your letter being tossed in the trash. The letter should feel like it’s a personal message from the writer directly to the recipient.
Tell a story.
Your message is strongest when delivered in the context of real people who are affected by your cause. Give real-life examples, and include photos.
Experts at La Salle University’s Nonprofit Center write, “Make your message real; humanize it. Connect with the reader, making him/her the ‘You’ in the story.”
Focus on appearance.
The message is critical – but if recipients see a huge block of text, they’ll never read it.
Nonprofit marketing agency Hollister Creative writes, “Make it colorful because color sells. The typical donor appeal letter takes the concept of ‘letter’ too literally. [Use] letter-style text in a design with high visual impact.” Break up text with subheads and bullet points to make it more readable and skimmable.
Make it clear: you’re asking for money.
Don’t beat around the bush. Your organization doesn’t just need vague support – it needs money, right now. Be clear that you’re asking for donations. Suggest actual amounts: “$25, $50, $100 – or whatever you can give.” Without this clarity, your letter will not generate the funds you need.
Make it easy to donate.
The fewer steps your donor has to take to donate, the more donations you’ll receive. It’s that simple. Mail-back cards and envelopes still work. But it’s critical to also accept online donations directly on your website.
Many recipients will find it much easier to donate online – some will do it right from their phones. Consider using a unique URL for the letter campaign (such as XYZNonprofit.org/letter), which should link directly to your donation page, so you can track results more effectively.
Create a sense of urgency.
Don’t give your donors an open-ended timetable. Explain why you need their donation right now.
Charitable nonprofits expert Joanne Fritz provides her own fundraising letter tips, in which she writes, “[Cite] a deadline for a matching grant, or tie your request to a budget deadline or a particular holiday … Repeat your argument for urgency both in the text of the letter but also in a P.S.”
Thank the donor.
Throughout the letter, but especially in the closing, your job is to make the recipient feel like your organization is already depending on them – almost as if they’ve already donated to you (which they probably have in the past). The messaging should subtly assume that they will donate again – that you’re counting on them to reach your very important goal. But also, importantly, a simple “thanks” goes a long way.
Additional Suggested Reading
There are numerous additional resources on writing fundraising letters online and in print. Mal Warwick’s top-rated book “How to Write Successful Fundraising Appeals” provides a wealth of information covering virtually every aspect of the letter-writing process. On the Web, Gail Perry’s “112 Tips to Raise More Money by Mail” is extremely useful and thorough – it makes a great checklist to use when writing your letters for each new fundraising campaign.