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How to Write a Fundraising Letter: Templates and Tips

INDUSTRY INSIGHTS

How to Write a Fundraising Letter: Templates and Tips

Writing a nonprofit donation letter is an art as much as it is a science. Here are a few quick tips and templates to get you started.

Of all the industries that succeed using direct mail, probably the largest single sector is non-profit fundraising. While online channels — websites, email, and social — grab a lot of attention, mail is still the most popular way to reach donors to causes and organizations of all kinds. And according to Blackbaud Institute’s latest Charitable Giving Report, online channels account for only 8.5% of all fundraising.

Clearly, direct mail is still valued because it is doing something right — but what?

Well, the most significant factor in successful non-profit direct mail is the fundraising letter itself.

How to write a nonprofit donation letter is an art as much as it is a science, something that can be broken down into rules, and structures that seem familiar while also propelling the reader along the AIDA process straight to taking action by sending money.

While entire books can be written about this art, here are a few quick tips to get you started, drawn from our collection of the best fundraising letter examples (more on how to do that yourself below).

1. Write to the Right Segment

If you have the resources for it, test versions of your basic appeals and renewal or upgrade campaigns by using language that resonates more with specific audiences. Your nonprofit likely has a diverse set of stakeholders with their own backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives based on age, income level, gender, and even geography.

Based on what you know about your target donors, you can modify your mailings, adjust images, copy, and ask amounts to encourage more engagement, loyalty, and contributions.

Dystonia Medical Research Foundation, in this November 2020 campaign, mailed to past donors, thanked them for past support, and asked for a year-end donation at a higher level than previously.


Dystonia Medical Research Foundation direct mail

2. Use Emotions But Smartly

I’ve talked about the wisdom in using emotions in direct mail to drive action. It’s a proven technique that nearly always beats facts and figures. But … do you always have to make an appeal to the dark side?

The goal here is to carefully build anger, fear, and other negative emotions but instead of giving in fully to them, give your prospective donor a place to step off and do something positive, like enlisting in your cause and making a donation. In other words, turn a negative into a positive.

In this effort mailed in December 2020, Alzheimer’s Disease Research is all positive: “Your support is changing the future! …We couldn’t make important strides like this without you!”

Alzheimer's Disease Research fundraising letter

Recommended reading: Emotional Marketing: Using Emotions in Direct Mail Copy

3. Give Them Something Else to Do

Let’s face it.

You want donors to give you money, and hopefully, as much as possible for them. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you can also get their help by asking them to take actions that help your cause without hitting your credit card. Some examples: visit your social media sites, enlist other like-minded people, or volunteer their time.

Social media callouts are found below the P.S. in this December 2020 letter from ASPCA.


ASPCA direct mail

4. Be Jargon Free

Your reader — the person you’re targeting for a donation — probably isn’t familiar with all of the terminology people at your nonprofit use every day in their work.

And even if they did, should they care? Keep all of that to a minimum and focus on the task at hand — making them understand why they need to take action by joining you. Treat it like a simple conversation across a table, not a boring powerpoint.

There are lots of ways to do this, but here’s an example in a member acquisition letter mailed by the National Wildlife Federation in April 2020. Instead of statistics about species loss or jargon with names of government agencies or laws, this appeal starts with a picture and account of how polar bears now resort more and more to extreme ways to find food with sea ice disappearing due to rapid climate change.


National Wildlife Federation direct mail

5. Tie Everything Together

Yes, the fundraising donation letter is the star player on your direct mail campaign team. But it should support the other players on the team. If you have an interesting or meaningful teaser on the outer envelope, the letter should reference it — if only subtly. The same goes for any inserts that provide statistics, the reply form with its ask amounts, or premiums that provoke a little guilt in the donor. Support them and they’ll make the letter work better.

There are lots of ways to do this. Here is a simple example. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has used this line on its outers for years: “Would you give $10… just $10 .. to help St. Jude save a child’s life?” It’s mailed with a simple 1-page letter that quickly runs down how St. Jude helps kids. And the ask amounts on the reply form start at $10.


St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital direct mail

Fundraising Letter Template

 

#1 Non Profit Donation Letter Template: Children

Donor Full Name
Donor Street Address
City/State/ZIP Code

Dear [First Name],

I am asking for your help on behalf of the innocent little children treated by [hospital name] — like [child’s name].

Thousands of children are diagnosed with [disease name] each year. And [hospital name] relies on funding from people like you to continue our lifesaving mission.

[Child’s name] wrote the enclosed note to say thank you for the new life she’s been given by friends like you.

The surgery is safe and 100% effective.

The surgery can take as little as 45 minutes.

And the surgery changes a child’s life forever.

[Hospital name] must continue to be there for every child who comes through our doors. We cannot let them down.

Best regards,
[signature]
Signer’s name

P.S. To show our appreciation for your gift, we’ve enclosed some special [type of premium] created by some of our patients here at [hospital name]. I hope that when you share them with family and friends, they will remind you of all you are doing to help children like [child’s name].

 

Pro Tip:

This subcategory relies on others to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. For example, doctors, nurses are respected voices of authority that demonstrate both expertise and compassion.

Personal names, stories, photos, artwork — all create a connection with the donor, especially when they also appear on a premium included in the campaign, like name & address labels or calendars.

#2 Non Profit Donation Letter: Politics

Donor Full Name
Donor Street Address
City/State/ZIP Code

Dear Friend,

I came out of a hardworking middle-class family at a time when America was creating opportunities for kids like me.

My father taught me to stand up for the little guy, and to make sure everyone has a voice. It’s a lesson I’ll never forget.

I’m a target because I don’t play Washington’s games to waste your money, and I’m not changing. Those who stand against us are strong, swimming in cash, and determined to defeat us.

For the next generation to have the same opportunities to succeed and forge their own American dreams, we must win this fight.

I’m writing to ask you to join my U.S. Senate campaign so we can do something about it.

Best regards,
[signature]
Signer’s name

P.S. Please join our campaign to level the playing field for middle-class families. A donation of $35, $50, or even $100 or more will help us build on the momentum we are gaining every day.

 

Pro Tip:

In many cases, the salutation for a political fundraising donor acquisition letter addresses a prospect as “friend” or another neutral term instead of by their name. The exception: letters to past or recent donors for renewals, year-end campaigns, etc.

Because wealthy donors have other ways to be reached, direct mail in political fundraising is dominated by appeals for the middle class. The language you use — referencing values, fairness, etc. — should reflect this.

Also, because money is the lifeblood of political campaigns, it’s important to emphasize deadlines, matching amounts, and “momentum” to keep donors interested.

#3 Non Profit Donation Letter: Religion

Donor Full Name
Donor Street Address
City/State/ZIP Code

Dear [First Name],

In the midst of the most difficult times, life-saving provisions, care, love, and the message of God have been shared with people. The lives of men, women, girls, and boys have been impacted in wonderful ways because of you!

As a result of our ministry, long-standing quarrels were settled, the sick were healed, employment was found for the needy, and drug addicts were cured.

Has your love for God been deepened through our work this past year? If so, consider making a financial gift by December 31. Help us fuel your joy — and the joy of many others again in 2021!

Best regards,
[signature]
Signer’s name

P.S. We need your help to support vulnerable people through our work. Please join us in giving top-notch care with a gift of $15, $25, $50, or $100 today!

 

Pro Tip:

Religious organizations have a variety of missions that generally focus on the best of what human beings can do, serving others as well as a higher power. With few exceptions, the language tends to be positive, unifying, and caring. For people who may not think of themselves as very spiritual, there are faith-based organizations that carefully frame their appeals to emphasize service in a more general way.

#4 Nonprofit Fundraising Letter: Animals/Wildlife

Donor Full Name
Donor Street Address
City/State/ZIP Code

Dear [First Name],

They come in shivering, even in the summer — not from cold, but from fear. Many are starving, and you can see their ribs. Often they’re covered in fleas and ticks. And you can hear them whimper. But even though the sound is heartbreaking, I know that means we’ve given another animal a chance.

Not everyone feels the love you and I feel for animals. It’s up to good people like you and me to step in with a warm heart and a helping hand.

We need you to join us — and we need you to join us now.

The animals we can save from cruelty with your support can’t wait. With each new member like you, we save more abandoned animals.

Let’s make sure that more animals get that chance in 2021 — and beyond.

Remember, every dollar you give will be matched up to $250,000, so please give as generously as you can right now.

Thank you for your generosity.

Best regards,
[signature]
Signer’s name

P.S. Your contribution to [nonprofit name] will go twice as far if you give between now and January 30. Every dollar you give will be matched up to $250,000 to make an even bigger difference in the lives of animals. Please use the enclosed form to make your contribution before the end of the year or give online right now at [website with campaign landing page].

 

Pro Tip:

The heartbreaking start of the letter gets the reader to visualize the problem the group is trying to solve. It pulls the donor and nonprofit together and with the power to make specific change happen. It also stresses the urgency of making a membership gift by the end of the month in order to have that amount matched and create a bigger impact.

The P.S. restates the urgency of a gift, and the call-to-action includes a landing page for the campaign to make an immediate change.

#5 Fundraising Donation Letter: Relief

Donor Full Name
Donor Street Address
City/State/ZIP Code

Dear [First Name],

Getting by was hard for the poor before the virus came.

Now, paying the rent and putting food on the table is harder than ever. Even jobs that pay minimum wage are few and far between.

What can you do to help? Much, in many ways!

Your gift of $55.10 provides meals and care for 29 struggling people.

Any amount you send today will help put food on the table for those in need.

I’m truly grateful for your partnership at this most critical time. You’re creating a better-shared future for us all!

Best regards,
[signature]
Signer’s name

P.S. Your donation will help ease hunger right here in [city name]. On top of that, your gift is a vote of confidence for better times ahead.

 

Pro Tip:

Letters for relief efforts sometimes focus on individual stories, while others talk about communities as a whole. More than anything, the intent is to build compassion.

Mentioning specific, odd-dollar amounts (and how many people are helped) makes the appeal more relatable, more real. It also builds credibility by creating the impression of thriftiness — that impacts are measured down to the penny.

Also, mentioning COVID-19 in any way helps emphasize the seriousness of an appeal even if it’s not directly related to it.

How to Write a Direct Mail Fundraising Letter: Who’s Mailing What! Step-by-Step Instruction

On the search page, members of Who’s Mailing What! can search on the entire Nonprofit category, or focus on mail in one or more subcategories:

  • Civic & Social Organizations
  • Fundraising-Animals/Wildlife
  • Fundraising-Children
  • Fundraising-Environment
  • Fundraising-Health/Disability
  • Fundraising-Politics
  • Fundraising-Relief
  • Fundraising-Religion
  • Fundraising-Other
  • Religious Institutions

With the thousands of mail pieces in Who’s Mailing What!, you can construct templates like the ones I made above. How?
Start with the goal (or goals) of your campaign. Let’s say you’re targeting your biggest donors for an end-of-year annual fund effort.
On the Who’s Mailing What! Website, here’s how to put all of your filters to your advantage.

1. Select the subcategory you want to write in.

select the nonprofit subcategory
2. Customize your search by selecting the date range and the format (free tip: envelope is the best choice in fundraising).

how to write fundraising letter templates

You can add a keyword or phrase in quotation marks (e.g., “donation”) to narrow down your search even further and click the Search button.

3. From your search results, look through the PDFs of mail pieces. You can scroll through the thumbnail images of a mail piece and click on the magnifying glass tool to view it in more detail.

how to write fundraising letter

Select the PDF to explore the details.

4. Save to the dashboard the mail pieces that caught your eye and access them any time. Use this swipe file to draw inspiration from when working on your fundraising letter.

how to write direct mail fundraising letter

You can also download or print the PDF of you choice to share with your team for inspiration.

According to the latest count, there are 27,000+ total mail pieces in Who’s Mailing What!’s Nonprofit category. As we upload new mail pieces daily, you can keep track of the Nonprofit industry with our FREE Look Up tool. Simply select “nonprofit” in the list of industries or enter any keyword to see the number of mail pieces in this niche.

look up nonprofit

Final Thoughts

These templates by themselves will not make you a better writer. My purpose in including them is to show that most successful mail follows a basic form because of its function, such as acquisition, renewal, upgrade, etc.

In a world where donation dollars and commitments are under stress from the competition as well as economic pressures, you must remember to talk about and demonstrate how the donor can make a problem, or the world, better with their gift. It’s never about you or your nonprofit, but all about the donor — the hero.

Paul Bobnak

Direct Mail Evangelist

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