“Thank you. I could not be here without your help. I never thought my dreams would come true, but here I am!” I am happy to share this note with you today. Jeremy Jones, a proud Rutgers University freshmen, sent it to thank us – and you – for making it possible for him to go off to school prepared to succeed.
That’s an actual example of a fundraising letter I got in the mail. A great opening is the first step in writing a letter that gets results. But there’s more…read on to learn how to create fundraising letters to generate significant income for your organization.
Even though we have constant access to email and text messages we still check to see what the mailman brings each day. Whether you send your appeals via email, mail or a combination of the two, you can improve the results.
Here are my 10 Steps to a great letter campaign…
- Write a draft. Don’t think yet about the opening or the “ask.” Just write a letter from your heart. Use friendly, informal language, your goal is to connect with the receiver. Use names and stories to make an emotional connection. Share your dreams. You are appealing to the heart, that’s how you will get people to care and to donate. And remember…
- Follow the rules. There have been many, many tests done to show what gets the best results in direct mail. The overwhelming winner is a long letter. Fight the urge to keep it short, long works (more than one page). But, the paragraphs should be short.
- Grab their attention. Start with an attention grabbing device. It might be a quote, a short personal story, an amazing fact, a heart-breaking statistic. The type could be larger and bold or italic. It should quickly draw your readers in and make them want to read. If you use a picture, place it further down on the page. If you are sending via email, check out 10 Steps to Powerful Emails.
- Ask for the money. While it is true that the recipient may not read every word, he/she will generally read the beginning and the end. Near the end of the letter make your pitch. State clearly what the need is and how the reader can help. Suggest a dollar amount. Let donors know that $500 will provide a special program for your daycare center, while $250 will provide safety equipment for the playground. This can be stated in the letter and repeated on the remittance envelope (donation form, online). Make it clear and easy to take action. And remember – do not send an appeal asking for $100 to your $20,000 a year donor!
- The envelope please. A remittance envelope is important. Make sure it is easy to use and ready to go, postage free or pre-stamped. The email equivalent is a direct link to your site’s donation page that looks like a natural extension of the email/letter.
- Surprise them. Insert something small, lightweight and relevant in the envelope of your appeal letter. It could be brightly colored paper with a fact, a photo or an incentive. Use what you have – I used wood shavings (and a related message) for a crafts museum with great results. The next year I used sheep’s wool. Lightweight, free and effective!
- Time Your Mailing. November or early December is great for holiday and year-end giving (and tax breaks). A series of mailings works even better.
- Mail Your Letter. Keep that database in shape so you can easily print out personalized letters or send emails. First class mail will speed up delivery and the stamp will improve the chances of it being opened. A printed or hand written address, rather than a label, is time consuming but may pay off. Email should be personalized.
- Measure to Improve. Keep track of the responses. You might even try a test with two different appeals, this is easy to do and worthwhile. If you mail a series you’ll want to know which one got the best results. Don’t ignore this step!
- Make Friends. Continually making friends is everyone’s job. All year long add new connections. Meet someone new; add them to your list!
P.S. Everybody reads the P.S. And if there’s also a P.P.S., they’ll read that too. Remind them of the urgency of your appeal and offer an incentive. While they are there, they’ll read the signature so hand-sign it whenever possible.
Send me your fundraising appeal. I’d be happy to review it for you!
Merle Benny is the Founder of Nonprofit Champion, a resource for fast track nonprofit leaders and the creator of Your Million Dollar Story. While building a successful career at Mc-Graw Hill and AIG, Merle was on a personal quest to understand how to help nonprofits grow and prosper. As a volunteer she learned to market and fundraise, raising millions for organizations. Partnering with Joe Landi, a branding expert and Duncan Pettigrew, a videographer, they created a system for all nonprofits to grow and raise more money. The result is Your Million Dollar Story.