Many charity communicators say that writing fundraising letters is one of the most difficult parts of their job. If you focus on a few basics, it’s easier than you think to write the kind of copy which generates impressive results for your charity or not-for-profit.
Things you'll need
- A quiet space where you won’t be interrupted.
- Your creativity.
Understand your target audience
Don’t even touch your word processor until you know who you’re writing for. Your target audience will determine everything about your letter from the words you use and the format you write in to the way it’s laid out. Think about what magazines they buy, what TV shows they watch and what social media they use. Now tailor your letter to meet their needs.
Make it personal
Once you can visualise a member of your target audience, make sure your copy speaks personally to them. Refer to them as “you”. Instead of using “I” or “me” use “we” or “our” so the reader feels like they’re making a connection with your organisation.
Grab your reader’s attention from the start
People remember good opening lines and fundraising letters are no different. You only have seconds to grab your reader’s attention so start in a way that you know will keep them reading. Compare “I’m writing from a charity called Befriending England” to “Sometimes your neighbour Ethel doesn’t see anyone for two weeks.”
Use case studies
Make sure you provide a personal story that allows readers to look past the statistics to the human stories beyond. You can either use direct quotes from a case study or tell their story. For example: “Rasheed spent last Christmas on his own, cold, hungry and on the streets. Without the Camden homeless shelter, I would be dead,’ admits the 16 year old.”
“We help homeless children on the streets of London” sounds a little vague. What readers really want is concrete information about what your charity can achieve. Sentences like “We have 50 homeless shelters in the capital providing the warmth and food which could save over 150 young people’s lives this Winter,” make a strong, specific case for your work.
The length of your letter should be dictated by its contents. Or, to put it another way, keep writing for as long as you’ve got something to say, then stop. Don’t feel like you’ve got to shoehorn loads of extra information just to make up the word count. Readers associate huge blocks of text with bills, bank statements and other kinds of mail they aren’t keen on opening. Using plenty of white space makes what you have to say all the more inviting to your audience.
Include a call to action
There’s a purpose to writing your letter, so make sure you include it as a call to action. Your reader should start and finish the letter knowing what you want them to do.
Rewrite and revise
Using plain English isn’t about dumbing down your message. It’s about ensuring that every one of your readers understands what you have to say and has the opportunity to respond. Get feedback from a member of your target audience on an early draft to make sure your letter is crystal clear. Never stop at the first draft. Look again later and you’ll find that you can improve. Positive it’s finished? Then pass it on to your colleagues for their comments, and make sure it’s properly proofread before it reaches your supporters.
10 Tips for Writing Better Fundraising Letters
- Appearance counts. Make your letter appealing and readable. Keep paragraphs short. Use subheads, bullets, centering, and other layout tools that guide the eye where you want it to go. Look at it with a designer’s eye so that it isn’t just a business letter, but a creative expression
- There is ongoing controversy about the length of letters, with most people assuming shorter is better. But there is no definitive answer on that, and studies have shown that people give larger gifts in response to longer letters. The length of the letter should be guided by the message
- Make your message real; humanize it. Connect with the reader, making him/her the “You” in the story
- Remember that people are motivated by benefits. Every nonprofit has needs so that can’t be the whole story. Make sure you make it clear how people will benefit from this donation
- While good grammar is key, don’t be afraid to deviate from what your English teachers drummed into you. Phrases instead of complete sentences are a good tool when they dramatize, underscore your message and convey emotion. One sentence can be a paragraph if it makes your point.
- Help the reader find your key points with underlining, bold face, italics. Use these tools sparingly but effectively to enable the reader to get your message even when scanning
- Don’t forget a P.S. that briefly reiterates your most important message. That and the first sentence as considered the most important components of the fundraising letter
- Repeated solicitation, without badgering, is critical to success. People often need repeated reminders to be moved to action. Don’t assume everyone received and read every previous mailing. Many people want to give more than once a year, or at least be reminded to do so
- Don’t forget to ask for money specifically. Too many letters dance around the real request. You’re asking for money – don’t be afraid to make that clear
- Say thank you quickly, personally, accurately. The thank you letter is the first step in securing a future gift.