Appeal Letter Secrets

Here is a good article by Alan Sharpe revealing some of his appeal letter secrets. When writing an appeal letter or donation request, Alan Sharpe is the master copywriter used by the largest non-profit groups, so pay close attention to what he says about how to write a great fundraising letter.

The Ask: 4 Secrets Of Donation Requests

In the fundraising profession, the act of requesting funds from a donor is called “the ask.” When you are writing a fundraising letter and you arrive at the place where you must actually, ahem, request a donation, you have arrived at the ask. And the ask, as you probably know, is one of the toughest things to get right in fundraising.

Where in the letter should you mention money?
Early on in your letter you should let your reader know why you are writing. Somewhere “above the fold,” usually in the second or third paragraph, describe the reason for your letter.

Here is an example:

“The people of Afghanistan have already suffered 20 years of conflict and three years without rain. One and a half million are dead. Two million are disabled. And now this: the UN is predicting that the number of Afghans facing hunger and deprivation will soon reach 7.5 million.”

“Something has to give. Or someone has to give. That’s why I’m writing to you during this crisis. Will you give? You can save lives and avert disaster by sending a donation to Doctors Without Borders right now.”

How much should you ask for?
Ah, the perennial question. As fundraising letter expert Mal Warwick would say, “that depends.” How much money you request of each donor depends on many variables, including:

  • size of the donor’s last gift
  • size of the donor’s average gift
  • amount that most organizations like yours ask for
  • specific need that you are presenting to the donor
  • size of your donor base
  • donor’s capacity to give
  • donor’s affiliation with your organization
  • length of time the donor has supported you

As you can see, the amount of money that you request in your direct mail fundraising letters depends on too many variables for me to give you an average figure to aim for in every appeal.

How many times should you request a donation?
Ask for a gift more than once in your letter. At a minimum, bring up the topic early on, and ask again for a donation in your conclusion.

Another good place to request funds is in your postscript (your P.S.). Some of your asks can be hard asks (“Give today”) and others can be soft asks (“Your gift will make a difference.”).

What’s the best way to actually ask for the gift?
Here we come to the topic of this Handbook. As you will discover, there are at least one-hundred and one ways to make your ask on paper. Some are forceful, others are subtle. Some are for capital campaigns, others for endowment campaigns and still others for year-end appeals.

I recommend that you read all of the asks, putting a checkmark in the margin next to the ones that will work for your unique organization, your unique donors, your unique case for support and your unique writing style.

About the author

Alan Sharpe is a professional fundraising letter writer, instructor and mentor who helps non-profit organizations raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors using creative fundraising letters. Learn more about his services, view free sample fundraising letters, and sign up for free weekly tips like this at