Mon, November 20 2006

Marketing 101:  How to write a fundraising letter

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Fundraising essentials •

Since it’s holiday appeals time, I’m posting about fundraising letters - and later, this week, emails.  Today I’ll analyze the opening lines of three letters, graded by their strength. 

Remember, an A+ letter grabs you from the first line by speaking to your values and presenting you with a compelling reason to act that is relevant to those values.  It feels personal.  An F letter is boring and has nothing to do with your values or much of anything.  The following grades are based only on the first few lines because if someone actually opens your envelope, they aren’t going to keep reading unless you score an A at the get-go.

“Dear Friend, anticipation is in the air.  The festive mood throughout our community is almost contagious.  Feasts are being planned, last minute shopping is being done, greeting cards are being addressed.  Here at the Humane Society of Greater Miami/Adopt-A-Pet, the anticipation is a little different.”

Grade: D-.  Why?  Generic, non-engaging first sentences that have nothing to do with me and nothing to do with the cause.  Lack of a reason to pay attention or act.  And by the way, I am not a “Friend,” I am a person with a name.

“Dear Friends,  Let us help make your holiday shopping the best experience ever by choosing the gift that keeps on giving!  Celebrate the holiday season by giving hope, mobility and freedom to someone who has none.  You will change the life of a child, teen or adult with a physical disability, as well as the lives of every member of their family, with a $75 gift to the Wheelchair Foundation to sponsor a brand new wheelchair.”

Grade: A-.  The first line was about helping me, the second made me feel I could feel good about myself by helping others.  Clear call to action.  It would be a solid A if they used my name instead of “friends.”

“Dear ALDF Member, Edgar’s learned how to play with dog toys.  That may not seem like a big deal, but when this elderly Boston terrier first arrived at our house, he didn’t know what a dog toy was.  So I put peanut butter into some rubber toys, and as I handed one each to his new “brothers,” Shadow and Koby, Edgar’s eyes grew very wide, and I could see he understood this was something really, really good!”

Grade: C-  The first line is interesting and the second is personal, which is not bad.  But it took to the eight paragraph to learn Edgar had been abused at an awful puppy mill (which is far more serious than lacking doggie toys), and they didn’t ask for money until page four.  Meanwhile, I had been gone since the peanut butter and was only reading because I wanted to blog the letter.  And if I gave them money (this letter is for people who have donated before), don’t I deserve to be called something other than “Member?”

  • Comment: (16)   

Comments

I know this is in the realm of personal preference, and mailing answers only to aggregate statistics, but I never like being addressed by my mail-merged name in an obvious mass appeal.  Phony, cloying ... sometimes hilariously mangled.  I can respect that they’re asking thousands of faceless people in a data file at minuscule reply rates.  But I sort of feel like they take me for a chump with “Dear Jason”.

Posted by Jason Z.  on  11/20  at  10:58 PM

Good point!  I always ask at workshops about the last time the people in the room donated money.  A lot of people love personal appeals and say the personalized nature of letters sometimes is the leading reason they do give.  But there’s an important nuance you point out that I didn’t sufficiently address—personal for many means truly personal and tailored, not a shoddy mail-merge.

Posted by Katya Andresen  on  11/20  at  11:17 PM

Excellent points.  But the thing that has me really shaking my head is “page 4” - they wrote a 4-page letter??? Ouch.

Posted by Mary Schmidt  on  09/19  at  03:19 PM
Katya Andresen's avatar

Mary - I was shaking my head too, but interestingly research shows many long mailed letters (NOT emailed letters), do better than shorter ones.  The shocking information on that is here—http://www.donorpowerblog.com/donor_power_blog/2007/09/7-surprising-fa.html

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/19  at  03:22 PM

It is always good if you know something about the person or group of people you are writing to, so you can make the letter more personal. I will try to put your examples the good use next time i have to send out a letter.

Posted by Disabled  on  07/02  at  08:18 AM

Really great blog with alot of good information!! Keep up the good work.

Posted by alwx  on  07/28  at  07:53 PM

I have been looking for this type of info, fund raising letters are a tricky task !  thanks.

Posted by Cancer Symptoms  on  10/29  at  09:39 PM

Hello katya, Really very nice and awesome information you share here. Thanks for your nice info.

Posted by custom mothers day gifts  on  05/02  at  12:36 PM

yastık thank you mal turan

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/02  at  10:10 PM

I never like being addressed by my mail-merged name in an obvious mass appeal.  Phony, cloying ... sometimes hilariously mangled.  I can respect that they’re asking thousands of faceless people in a data file at minuscule reply rates.

Posted by club penguin cheats  on  06/12  at  07:46 AM

now this is the most valuable advice i have received from this website so far. Katya, you are the best smile

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Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/05  at  02:40 PM

For appeals, mail merges are truly the only cost effective solution for addressing such a large audience. My question to you would be, how do you combat this necessity? Would you prefer to see a hand-written note from the addresser?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/03  at  08:16 PM

Valuable concept about how to write a fundraising letter. I also think with you the following grades are based only on the first few lines because if someone actually opens my envelope, they aren’t going to keep reading unless my score an A at the get-go. Thanks!

Posted by Nathan Green  on  03/22  at  01:28 PM

Marvelous concept about write a fund raising letter.  This is a informative idea. Thanks for sharing it.

Posted by David Ben  on  03/30  at  05:12 PM

It’s pretty unbelievable how a 5 year old post can be still so useful…I have to write an essay about fund raising, and I think that thanks to the info you provided on this page, I can write an entire chapter about how to obtain funds through a letter!

Thanks a lot, Katya!

Posted by preventivo assicurazione auto  on  04/08  at  01:31 PM

Still great info to which I refer others still.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/19  at  09:52 AM

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