Does the perfect fundraising letter exist? Writing effective fundraising copy is a lot harder than most people realize and writing the “perfect” fundraising letter is a lot harder than a lot harder.
It is part art and part science, with a whole lot of hard work in the middle. But, when it is done right, it can be so powerful…It can raise a ton of money. Great fundraising copy makes the reader FEEL strong emotions – so strong that he/she gives your organization their hard-earned money. And in doing so, the reader feels empowered or good or satisfied or important or all of that (and more).
Here are some tips for writing the best fundraising letter.
Remember, you are writing a letter to one person from one person. Even though you may be sending your letter to thousands and thousands of people, you should never write to a crowd. Use “you” and “I” rather than “we.”
The best way to capture the correct tone is to imagine you are writing the letter to your grandmother or your mother, because you probably ARE writing to a grandparent. Don’t sound businesslike because it can feel impersonal.
Which leads to…
Know your audience. Have a clear picture in your head of who you are writing to: what they look like, how they think and feel, and what they care about. (Hint: They are not you!)
You always want to put the donor first. People give because they want to make something good happen (or stop something bad from happening.) Your organization is simply the middleman to accomplish that. That means you should talk less about your organization and more about the donor. Remember: the donor is the hero every time and should feel like it.
Ask for a contribution as soon as it feels right…and be direct…and don’t apologize. Remember to treat the reader like he or she wants to be a stakeholder in the cause. Do not make the ask about things – things (medicine, research, legislation, etc.) are the feature, but people or animals are the beneficiaries of the contribution. Make the ask about them…and ask often.
Stories can be so powerful. They grab the donor’s attention and show the donor how they can make a difference and solve a problem.
Good stories have a problem, a struggle and a solution. The donor should not be a passive spectator in the story; the donors should always be the hero.
Your letter must be emotional and full of passion. You want to appeal to the donor’s heart. Study after study has shown this is more effective in fundraising rather than using facts and statistics to make a logical case.
Don’t let the readers put your appeal aside for “later.” They rarely get back to it. Give them a reason to write that check NOW.
Don’t Forget the PS
The PS is the most read part of the letter. Use it wisely. Include an ask in your PS–it might be the only thing some donors read!
Make It Easy to Read
Donors are very smart, but that doesn’t mean you need to make it difficult for them to read your fundraising letter. Make it as easy to read as you can! Here’s what I mean:
You want to aim for copy that is at the 6th grade level. Why? Copy at that level can be read quickly and easily understood by all adult readers. There is a great, free readability tool called Hemingway (http://www.hemingwayapp.com/) that will tell you the level of your writing and suggest changes to improve readability. Use it!
Use short words and short sentences. Wherever you find a long word, switch it out for a shorter one that anyone would know. And cut your long sentences into two, maybe three shorter, punchy sentences. Write like you talk.
Don’t use internal jargon or acronyms. You aren’t trying to impress donors, and you will just end up confusing them instead.
When you think you are finished with your letter, read it aloud. If you stumble over any words or sentences, you will know you need to rewrite those parts.
Make It Easy to Scan
Here’s the hard truth: Most donors are not going to read your letter word for word. In fact, a lot of them will read the first sentence, then read the PS, and finally scan back through the rest of the pages.
That means you need to format your letter to make it easy to scan and still understand.
How do you do that? First things first, always use a large font size, at least 12 point, but ideally 13 or 14 point. Remember, donors are typically 60 years old or older, and their eyesight is likely not as strong as yours.
You also want to use serif fonts which are easier to read than other fonts.
Other techniques to use to improve scanability:
- Use bullet points or numbered lists
- Break up your text with white space
- Indent paragraphs
- Use subheads
- Use story photos
- Boldface or underline important parts
A great fundraising letter will inspire the readers to give you their hard-earned money. Remember to always put them first, make your letter easy to read, and use storytelling whenever you can!