How to Write a Fundraising Letter

Identify Who Your Donors Are

First, know your donors. Beginning with an updated list of past donors is key — they will likely give again and may even increase their donations over time. Make sure to have a good, well-targeted, updated mailing list for new prospects as well.

In order to get people to read your letter, they must first open the envelope. Include teaser copy on the outside of the envelope. This can be as simple as a printed line saying, "We need your help."

Early in the letter, make your case — quickly. Don't beat around the bush. Tell about your organization or project at the top of the letter and get to the point right away. What problem will this project solve? What need will it fill?

Appeal to the Heart First

Appeal to your donors' hearts first with descriptions and anecdotes, then their heads with facts and figures.

If you are writing to previous donors, be sure to thank them first before you ask for more money. "Thanks for being such an important influence on our program in the past. Last year's fundraiser was such a success, we're inviting you to help again..."
Don't exaggerate or overextend yourself. Nothing will destroy your credibility faster than sounding like a used-car salesperson when raising funds for a good cause.

Write a Longer Letter By Providing Key Details

As with other sales letters, longer copy pulls better in fundraising letters. I know, I know — "Nobody reads long letters." While most people won't read every word, the more you can tell the reader about the benefits of giving, the better response you will receive.

Another reason for long copy is that with a good fundraising letter, you should be able to start reading at any point in the letter and still know what it is about.

It's much harder with a one- or two-page letter to state your case in a number of different ways than it is with a four-page letter. With a longer letter, you have much more room to convince the reader to give.

Don’t Just Ask, Tell Your Audience How Much To Give

Don't forget to ask for the money! Don't just tell them about your program; ask directly for their help. Also, tell them how much to give so they have an idea of what is needed. "Our education program needs 25 computers, at $2,000 each. If you can't afford a whole computer, a donation of only $200 will buy a printer."

You will get donations of at least $200.

Create a Sense of Urgency

Appeal to readers' sense of urgency by providing a deadline. "We need these funds by January 1 in order to carry out our spring awards event." If you don't get them to act right away, they probably won't act at all.

Include a Return Envelope

For the maximum reply, include a return envelope. Make it easy for people to donate by telling them how! "Just check the box on the reply card and mail it with your check in the enclosed postage-paid reply envelope." It may sound silly to you, but people respond to clear instructions.

Include a Postscript

Remember to include a PS at the bottom. The bulk of your letter will go unread by most of your readers. A postscript is a last-chance effort to summarize your whole letter and get your readers to act on it.

Follow Up With a Phone Call

As with any direct-mail piece, it's good to make follow-up phone calls one or two weeks after you mail the letter. Ask if the letter was received and if you can answer any questions. Of course, you won't always reach the right person, but if you follow up, you greatly increase your chances of getting a donation.

Writing successful fundraising letters isn't rocket science. These tips are based on years of trial and error. If you follow them wisely, your campaign will be successful. Plan early and be organized, and the letter writing will take care of itself!


Linda Elizabeth Alexander writes marketing copy for nonprofits. When a deadline looms and you're overworked and understaffed, contact her to come to your rescue.

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