I was asked by one of my followers on Quora last week, “What makes an effective fundraising letter?” I answered:
-A strong case that makes readers want to give to you.
-A strong lead sentence/paragraph that pulls them into the story
-Either an ask or an indication that you are going to ask by the third graph
-Simple language in sentences that don’t top 18 words, most of which are more brief.
-A strong ask at the bottom of the first page (I’m biased toward two-page letters, but not all agree. They work for my clients.)
-Another strong ask on the second page, either at the end, if the letter is a page-and-a-half or in the middle and at the end for a full two-page letter.
-A P.S. that summarizes the message and restates the ask. (Before you laugh at the idea of a P.S., know that it’s the second most read item in a letter, second only to the opening.)
-A response device that contains a commitment statement (“Yes, I will contribute to help [organization accomplish the stated goal in the letter.]) and suggested gift levels, along with space for credit card info with a check option.) Also a statement of tax deductibility at the bottom of the device. TIP: Most organizations today seek not just a one-time gift, but a monthly option, but this may not work as well for new donors.
-A return envelope into which the response device fits. (It drives me nuts to see an envelope too small for the response device. Don’t make your prospective donor work. Make it easy.)
-Key concepts and words underlined and/or bolded for “scan-ability.” (Most readers don’t read the full letter. They scan it. The little highlighting tricks you see in fundraising letters are designed to promote that by leading readers through the main points.)
Unless the organization is well-known to the reader, teaser copy on the outside of the envelope that gets them to open it. If the reader already knows/supports the institution, do not use a teaser. The return address on the outer envelope will do that.)
I find that the biggest mistake made by writers of fundraising letters is a failure to ask for the order. You must be direct. Tell readers what you need, rather than expecting them to figure in out for themselves. If you ask for “support,” readers may feel they already support you. If you ask for a contribution/investment, etc., they know what you are requisition and can then decide whether to give.
The point of a fundraising letter is to excite the reader about why you need them to contribute and ask them to do so. Don’t pussyfoot.