How to Write Letters that Move a Donor to Action

When you send out your appeal letters, they are delivered to homes where people have busy lives and many distractions, and lots and lots of other mail.

Your job is to inform your donors so they can: understand they’re a crucial part of your non-profit, grasp the importance of your non-profit’s work, and move them to continue their support of your organization.

If your letter recipient isn’t currently active with your non-profit, the letter should motivate them to take one step of action that involves them in your efforts. This is a big job and I want you to get a reward from your hard work.

Start by imagining your donor. They get home from a tough day of work, and discover a pile of mail needing sorting. You want them to see your letter and not toss it aside like other pieces of mail. How do you get them to open your letter? There are several things you can do to make your mail stand out at first glance.

Be strategic by paying attention to the envelope—the first thing they see. Whether you personalize the envelope, use a color envelope or use pictures that create curiosity, work hard to get them to open the letter.

This moves us to the next question: How are we going to motivate people to action and join your ministry?

Remember these things when answering that question:

  1. Donors need lots of information to be persuaded to send gifts by mail. People say they want to read only short letters, but they really crave answers to their questions. Be more concerned that you bring out the questions and the answers your reader wants rather than trying to use a small amount of words on just one page. Of course, don’t waste words, but be focused and compelling! If it takes an extra page or two to say what needs to be said, it’s okay! Slightly increasing your budget and stifling the tendency to keep your message short and sweet just might result in a compelling letter with a great ROI.
  2. Donors are skeptical. Donors want proof you’re doing the things you say you’re doing. Use the opportunity to show that you are about your mission and your mission matters.
  3. An appeal is too long only if it doesn’t convey the information that donors want. Here is a sample of what donors are looking for in your letters:
    • Information. Statistics. A clear outline of what you are doing.
    • Specifics on how you are going to achieve your ministry promise.
    • An understanding of why your ministry is necessary even when there seem to be many others doing the same thing.
    • The results of your work through the years. If you are established and have been around, say that!
  4. Human interest is so important. Everyone has a story, and you have many of them. Don’t shy away from sharing stories in your letter. It draws readers in by giving them a personal connection they can relate to.
  5. If there’s a way to misunderstand your message, donors will find it. No matter how many words you use, please understand the way you say it matters. Words are important and you can use them strategically to do great work for your ministry. Don’t assume anyone will read between the lines or pick up on something you haven’t emphasized.
  6. Format and design affect understanding. Think of all the different features you use when you put together your letters: words, numbers, typography, graphics, pictures, paper and ink. Take time to make purposeful choices about what you will use and where you will place it. These are all tools used to get results, so use them wisely!

Don’t just read this blog and toss it aside. Even large organizations have not tapped into their potential when it comes to fundraising letters. If these ideas feel overwhelming, organize a focus group and ask them questions about your fundraising letters—then apply what you learn. Commit today to take one step to generate more results from your letter writing efforts!