The following are the Cardinal
Rules of writing a fundraising letter, adapted from Mal Warwick's immensely useful How to Write Successful Fundraising
Use "I" and "You," but mostly "You."
Using I and You provides human interest
and is a powerful way to engage the reader.
Base your appeal on benefits, not needs.
Donors give in order to get something
in return, primarily the good feelings that come from helping others, or an opportunity to enjoy an experience.
Intangible benefits are lives saved
or human dignity restored. Tangible benefits could be tickets to a special performance of your ballet company or early admission
to a special exhibit at your museum. Tell your prospective donor what he/she will get out of their donation, both tangible
Ask for money, not for support.
Be explicit when asking for money.
Example: Send a special gift today of $25 or more. Be clear and repeat some variation of the message throughout the
letter. Don't be shy and don't be vague.
Write a package, not a letter.
The letter is the most important
piece of your package, but it is only a part of a multi-piece unit that must all work together seamlessly.
At the very least, your package
will contain an outer envelope, a reply envelope, and a reply device, as well as the letter. Think about how each of these
will help persuade donors to take action now. Use a unifying theme, symbols, colors and typefaces so the package is both memorable
Write in simple, straightforward English.
Your words should be powerful and your sentences short
Use emotional words rather than
those that provoke analysis. Avoid foreign phrases and overly large words. Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly, and avoid
abbreviations or acronyms. Spell out names. Repeat and even underline key words and phrases. Readers skim, so make it easy
to find the meat of your message without reading the entire letter.
Make It easy to read.
The eye needs to rest, so leave plenty of white space
around your copy by:
paragraphs that are more than seven lines long. But do vary the length of your paragraphs.
bullets rather than listing items within sentences.
subheads. If the letter is long, try centering and underlining the subheads.
sparingly but consistently to call attention to key words and phrases.
Give readers a reason to send money now.
Create a sense of urgency by citing
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. and on your reply device. Be careful about using actual dates if you are
using bulk mail. The letter might arrive after the date.
Write as long a letter as you need to make your case.
Many people will read every word
of your letter, while others will simply scan it. Write to both groups with a reasonably long letter that is set up to be
easy to scan.
Don't worry about boring long time supporters.
Research shows that even the most active donors may remember little about your organization, so don't worry about repeating
yourself. Think of your letter as yet another opportunity to educate your donor about what your organization does and why
that is important.