us are pretty good at reading letters asking us for money. In just
moments, we can give a fund-raising letter a thumbs up or a thumbs down.
writing these letters is another matter. Here’s how to go about it:
Know your audience.
The more you know about your readers, the more likely you are to appeal to
their interests and values. Key to your success is a good mailing list.
An up-to-date list of past donors and likely prospects enables you to
acknowledge previous contributions and to avoid wasting your resources by
mailing to people who are unlikely to give (or even open your letter).
Get your reader’s
attention right away. Your only limitation is your creativity. Use
“teaser copy” on the outside of your envelope to induce your reader to
look inside. Use a handwritten note to create a personal touch. Use an
“involvement device” to get your reader to take some initial action – such
as filling out a card or responding to a survey – on the assumption that,
once “involved,” your reader will be more apt to make a donation.
your approach, start fast. Lead off with your strongest material. Appeal
first to the heart with descriptions, anecdotes, and quotations.
Appeal next to the head with information and statistics.
Make your letter
personal. Write to the reader as you would write to someone you
know. Use the word “you” and the person’s name. If possible, refer to
personal information such as previous giving level.
Describe the benefits
of giving. Tell your reader, in specific detail, what a gift will
accomplish. You might want to describe what services could be provided or
what materials could be purchased at various levels (for example, a $100
donation to your favorite columnist would buy a new print cartridge; a
$1,500 donation would buy a new laptop computer).
Convey a sense of
urgency. Urge your reader to act now. Explain why your request can’t
wait. Most of your readers won’t do tomorrow what they put off today.
clichés. If it sounds familiar, you’ve probably heard it before –
hundreds of times – and so has your reader. Here are some to avoid: “You
don’t know me, but . . .”; “In the minute it takes to read this page . .
.”; “Join in the excitement . . .”; and “The question is not whether to
give, but how much to give.”
Use a “lift letter.”
A “lift letter,” so called because it can “lift” the response to your
mailing, is a short, supporting letter enclosed with the main one. The
idea is to arouse the curiosity of the reader, particularly the reader who
won’t take the time to read the longer letter.
Use a “P.S.” In
direct mail, the postscript tends to be read by even the most hurried
reader. Use it to make a last pitch (“Won’t you please support our
talented young people by making a $20 contribution to the Dead Poet’s
Society?”) or to offer a gentle reminder (“Please check with your employer
to see if your gift can be matched.”).
A “stopper” is any element in your letter – a grammatical error, a
confusing statement, an inappropriate remark, an offensive tone – that
stops your reader from reading your message. As with all important
writing assignments, ask other people to check your copy for anything that
might annoy or distract your reader.
Test your copy.
Try your letter out on a test group. Compare the response to that of
previous letters. Experiment with different versions of the same letter
by altering one element at a time and by coding and recording responses.
have it: effective fund-raising in 10 easy steps. Good luck.