It’s that time of year…when many organizations are writing their annual appeal letters. For some organizations, this single letter raises a significant portion of their unrestricted operating budget. Because of its importance, efforts made to write the best letter possible can be rewarded with additional financial contributions to the organization.
The first step in writing a successful letter (i.e., one that brings in a lot of money) is to determine who it is going to be sent to. Will the letter be sent to individuals who are familiar with the work of the organization or is the letter essentially a “cold-call” to someone who doesn’t know the organization? Today, we will focus on writing the letter to people who know the organization, or who are at least acquaintances of the organization.
Some keys for success:
- Personalize the letter as much as possible. If you know the individual you are mailing the letter to then you know their name; do not use “Dear Friend.”
- Write the letter as a conversation with the individual. Imagine that you are having a face-to-face conversation with someone, what words do you use to connect with the person to whom you are speaking? What does your body language say? Try to incorporate these into the letter.
- Start with a story about someone who has been the beneficiary of your work. Stories allow people to connect. If you can get the reader to connect at the beginning of the letter, they are more likely to continue reading.
- Start with a story, but make the first sentence of the letter short. Short sentences increase the likelihood that people will continue to read. (Short sentences reduce the reading level of documents, people generally start with skimming and long sentences are more difficult to skim).
- Briefly highlight some of the accomplishments of the organization over the past year.
- Create a sense of urgency. Why are you writing? What will the donated funds allow you to do? But, remember the letter is not about the needs of the organization…but is instead about what the funds will allow you to do for those you serve.
- Incorporate an “ask” into the letter 2-3 times. You will not receive if you don’t ask.
- If you have written an appeal letter before, you should include some information about what you used previous gifts for. Obviously, if this is your first appeal letter, you will skip this section.
- Have every part of the letter focus on what you want readers to remember. What is the single most important thing about your work (at least for this letter)?
- Wrap the letter up by creating an opportunity for the reader to be a hero. We all like to be heroes, so tell the donor how they can be a hero to your organization and to those that you serve.
Once the letter has been written, it is time to begin thinking about the response card. A response card is the card or envelope the donor will use to respond to your letter. Those that get the best response typically tell donors exactly what donations at various levels will accomplish. For instance, “your gift of $25 will enable us to provide hot lunches to 25 children for one week. Providing this type of information allows donors to select what they would like to help the organization accomplish. As you develop your response card use words like, “you,” “us,” and “we.” These words help make the donor feel like they are part of the work you are doing and again, give the donor the feeling that they are a hero.
Next week, our focus will be on writing appeal letters to individuals you don’t know. Then, to complete the annual appeal series, we will cover effective thank you notes.
Would your organization like to write an annual appeal letter this year? We can help, contact us today to discuss your needs and how we can help you get the funding you need to meet them.