What’s in my Mailbox | Your Foolproof Fundraising Appeal Letter Template

May 30, 2018

“My board is thinking of going all digital to save money…”

Sigh. I hear it every day from fundraisers who should know better. They seem to forget that not only is direct mail fundraising still one of the best ways to raise money — and acquire new donors — it’s also your best resource for major donors and future bequests.

As Jeff Schreifels notes, “Where do you think most donors who are on major gift caseloads come from? Most major gift donors come from those first $25 checks that are sent in from either a direct mail or e-appeal campaign.”

So how can you ensure that your fundraising appeal letter gets results?

Create a strong opening

Hook your reader, right from the start. One of my favorite examples is from copywriter Jules Brown, writing for Women’s Aid:  “Could you picture, for a moment, a woman on the brink of making the hardest decision of her life.” Find your own drama and excitement.

Your Story

In his book, The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, Jeff Brooks writes:

“You’ve heard that 22,000 children die from hunger-related causes every day. That’s mind-boggling. Heartbreaking.

I spent years looking for ways to make that fact vivid. I talked about how many children die in an hour (917) or a minute (15; that’s one every four seconds). I painted visions of emptied0out American towns with populations of around 22,000.

It never worked.

The fundraising that works is always about a sick baby. Or a father who couldn’t grow enough food for his family. Stories.”

Remember, your story should focus on one individual and should convey emotion. Where is your donor in this picture? What is your donor accomplishing through you?

Make your donor feel good. Like a hero.


How are you sharing impact? Here’s where you’ll share your organization (and your donor’s) impact. Be succinct. Remember, statistics don’t sell! Infuse your story with donor love.

Reinforce the ask and close

I’ve read far too many fundraising appeal letters that avoid making an ask altogether. They hint. They make their ask general and non-specific. Your ask needs to be strong, sure, specific.

“Pamela, your gift of $20 will multiply more than 6 times to save starving children.” (Food for the Poor, Inc.)

And when it comes to your letter, too many cooks spoil the broth.

One writer. One voice.

To make it even easier for you, download this handy dandy Basic Appeal Template that helped one subscriber raise $4,000 from a tiny house-file of long-lapsed donors (click the image to download).

How can you increase your response rates even further? Consider adding a non-financial engagement piece.

From The Commission on the Donor Experience:

“Fundraising should be measured long term, not just on immediate returns. Fundraisers should be judged at least as much by longer-term, more donor-friendly criteria rather than just by income raised now. New criteria should include retention, satisfaction, non-financial engagement, future giving intentions, loyalty, commitment and lifetime value.”

What does an engagement piece look like? Consider this short tear-off piece where supporters were asked to share how a grandmother or loved one shaped their spiritual journey.

And for more in-depth training on how you can significantly increase your direct mail fundraising, even on a shoestring budget, enroll in Direct Mail Masterclass, the most comprehensive online training available on nonprofit direct mail.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Max October 31, 2018 at 11:28 pm

We certainly agree with these sentiments about direct mail. For sending handwritten cards or notes you might want to check out HappyDonors.net (part of Thankster.com). It lets you automate the process by integrating it with your DRM or other software. Or we can help you with one-off projects and custom cards. And our handwriting looks great. You can go to bit.ly/postsamp to get a free sample.

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