Fundraising: it’s an important function in every nonprofit organization. Fundraising is the way through which many nonprofits generate revenue to pay their staff, support their programs, and keep the lights on.
If you’re in the field of fundraising, it’s likely you’ve heard of a fundraising appeal letter. But what is it? And does your nonprofit need to be sending one?
Don’t panic! We can help you out. Keep reading to learn more about what a fundraising appeal letter is, why they’re important, and how you can create one.
What is a Fundraising Appeal Letter?
A fundraising appeal letter is a way for nonprofit organizations to ask donors for money by directly mailing them a letter.
Nonprofits use fundraising appeals to motivate donors to make financial donations to their organization. Appeals are frequently used to raise funds for a specific project or program, and can even be used to help get new programs off the ground.
There are other types of fundraising appeals, some of which are digital; however, an appeal letter is sent through old-fashioned snail mail to a donor’s address.
Many nonprofits send appeals during the holiday “giving season”, mid-way through their fiscal year, or at the end of their fiscal year (often called an end-of-year appeal).
Why is a Fundraising Appeal Letter Important?
Fundraising appeal letters are an important part of a robust, successful fundraising platform. Let us tell you why:
You Can Reach More Donors
Fundraising appeal letters provide your nonprofit organization an opportunity to appeal to donors to make financial contributions via direct mail. This is a great way for you to reach new and current donors who may not follow your organization on digital platforms like social media.
Some donors appreciate receiving appeals in the mail and are more inclined to give by writing and mailing a check—so it’s important to find ways to intentionally reach those donors!
You Can Diversify Revenue Streams
Diversifying your fundraising efforts is important because it leads to longer-term financial sustainability. For example, if your organization relies strictly on grant funding, there is a chance that you may someday not receive those funds and will have to reduce your operations.
However, if you diversify your revenue by adding in fundraising appeals and an individual gifts program, your nonprofit will not be fully reliant on just one form of income.
You Can Launch New Projects/Programs
Fundraising appeal letters are a great way to garner support for new projects or programs that your nonprofit is trying to launch. You can design an entire appeal around a new initiative, and let donors know that they will be the ‘inaugural donors’ for this project.
It sounds very exciting when donors read that letter, and it incentivizes them to donate to something new! It’s also very appealing to donors when they know exactly what their donations are being used for—for example, that brand-new animal shelter you are building, or the brand-new tutoring program you are launching.
Bottom line: A fundraising appeal letter is an important part of your organization’s fundraising program!
How to Write a Fundraising Appeal Letter in 5 Steps
You know now what a fundraising appeal letter is and why it is an important part of your fundraising program. That’s great! Now, let us help you get started on writing one!
We’ve included 5 steps to help you write an effective fundraising appeal letter—keep reading!
1. Choose a mailing list
The first thing to think about when drafting a fundraising appeal letter is – who are you going to mail the letter to?
There are a few ways you can determine this. If you have an existing donor database, you can pull a mailing list of existing donors who have contributed to your organization previously. You can choose donors from the last year or even the last 2-3 years.
But remember—you should be practicing appropriate donor stewardship techniques, and should not ask donors to give money until they have been appropriately thanked for their last contribution.
Consider the Rule of 7, which says that your organization should have the opportunity to say ‘thank you’ seven times before asking a donor to make another financial contribution.
2. Tell a story
Research shows that statistics don’t improve your fundraising outcomes—in fact, they can hurt them! (If you’re a data-loving person, don’t stress! There are a lot of places where data can help support your organization, like in your annual report!).
So rather than filling your appeal letter with statistics about the number of people you serve, or the number of pounds of food you donate, or the number of animals adopted from your shelter, tell a story.
Think of one beneficiary of your work, and share their story. Who are they? How did your organization help them? How has their situation improved since they received your services?
A well-written success story can help your donors feel connected to your work. They want to read about that one homeless dog your rescue saved who now has a home and is living like a king. Or the one student who received intensive tutoring from your nonprofit and graduated high school and got into college.
Pull on those heartstrings! If donors feel connected to the people/animals/constituents that you serve, they’re more likely to take out their checkbook and respond to your fundraising appeal letter.
Need some tips on nonprofit storytelling? Check out this post.
3. Consider the design
The design of your annual appeal letter, and the envelope you mail it in is almost as important as the content. You need to design your appeal letter packaging in a way that incentivizes the recipient to actually open it.
There are a few ways you can design your envelope based on your organization’s function, culture, and the specifics of the appeal. Any of these options could work, but it’s important that you think through what makes the most sense for your nonprofit.
- Leave the envelope blank except for the addresses. Sometimes a crisp, clean approach works best!
- Use a teaser from your story on your envelope. For example, a photo of the dog you rescued and a quote like, “Read more about how XYZ Animal Rescue helped Sparky find his forever home!”
- Add a sense of urgency by including a red stamp that says “Emergency Appeal!”
Here’s an example of a clean, simple, and yet very eye-catching appeal letter envelope!
The appeal letter itself should be visually appealing, but not cluttered. You want your potential donors to be able to skim the letter and understand who you are and what you are asking for. You can use bold or italic fonts to emphasize keywords and help your donors hone in on the important pieces of the letter.
One final thing to consider when designing your appeal: can you adapt it so that it can be shared digitally?
Fundraising appeal letters are a great way to reach donors that want to receive communications in the mail, but that doesn’t mean you should forget about your donor base that uses digital spaces too! You can mail a fundraising appeal and also share it on your website and social media platforms as well, reaching even more donors (and hopefully raising more money, too!)
4. Keep it short & action-oriented
The content of your letter is also an important factor to consider. We know you’re going to tell a story, and we know you’re going to make sure the design is professional and not cluttered. But the rest of the content is important, too!
Here’s the key: keep it short. Your appeal letter should be limited to one page. It is very unlikely that any current or potential donor would invest time into reading a multi-page appeal.
Another tip is to keep your verbiage action-focused. You aren’t writing a research paper or a novel; you’re writing to inspire your recipients to donate. Make sure your grammar is correct, make sure you don’t have any spelling errors or typos, and make sure you are focused on how your donors can take action.
5. Include a reply device
This is arguably the most important piece of the fundraising appeal—your donors cannot send you a donation if you don’t include a mechanism for them to do so!
When designing your reply piece, think about these things:
- How many options will you give your donors? For example, you could include a reply envelope so they can mail you a check as well as a link to give on your website.
- If you include a reply envelope, how will it be designed? It should complement the envelope your appeal package was mailed in to visually tie the whole package together.
- Will you include a stamp?
- Will you include a form for a donor to send you their credit card number if they don’t want to mail a check?
Here’s the thing: when it comes to options, our advice is that less is more. Choose 2-3 options for your donors so that you don’t overwhelm them.
Remember: you want donating to be easy!
Wrapping Up: How to Write a Fundraising Appeal Letter in 2023
Let’s wrap it up!
A fundraising appeal letter is a letter you mail to donors that asks them to make a donation to support a specific project or program. Appeal letters are an important part of a diverse, well-rounded fundraising strategy because they help you reach current and new donors, they can help you kick start new projects, and they help to diversify your revenue. Win, win, win!
The content of the appeal letter is important—but so is the design! Keep it short, tell a powerful story, and make it easy for your donors to donate by including a reply device.
If you follow these steps, it will be a breeze for you to draft an effective fundraising appeal letter!