When writing an appeal letter or donation request letter, there are certain things that every fundraising appeal letter needs to have. This article gives a quick snapshot of what emotions your appeal needs to evoke and the best way to say it, followed by a sample donation request letter so you can see how it all works together.
Writing an Appeal Letter
When writing an appeal letter, you have to play to your reader’s emotions. Your letter must rouse an emotional response with it’s first paragraph, not blandly recite boring facts.
Grab their interest by creating a villain, flatter their wisdom, use guilt to appeal to their conscience, or appeal to their social status with an air of exclusivity. A letter of appeal that fails to quickly stir up the reader’s emotions is destined for the wastebasket.
In fact, write each sentence of your letter with the knowledge that people read their mail within six feet of a trash can. Knowing that will imbue a sense of urgency in each paragraph that will make the reader continue on to the next paragraph and then the next and the next and so on.
What To Say
A fundraising appeal letter that speaks to their heart will get read. You want what you say to pack a powerful emotional punch. Anger and guilt are two very powerful triggers, so how do you use them in your appeal?
Simply write from your heart with passion about what makes you so angry that you’re trying to fix it. Sprinkle in a little personalized guilt about what happens to those that didn’t receive help because of a lack of funding.
Expose your reader to the dark side with a vivid portrait of the problem you’re attacking. Make it personal and make it come alive in their mind’s eye.
For example, start with a shocking story that grabs their attention and creates a demand to know what happened. Use the storytelling approach to enhance your appeal for donations by leading the reader through a vivid portrayal of the problem and make them see the same urgent need for a solution that you do.
To get a strong response to your letter, your word choices must be packed with emotion and you must strike a chord with your reader. Anything less and your appeal letter goes in the wastebasket.
How To Say It
Here is a sample appeal letter for a women’s shelter:
Dear Name, (personalized, not dear friend)
Dazed and desperate, Marie Thomas banged on the door, blood slowly trickling down the side of her face as she struggled to hold back another round of tears. “Please help me,” she begged the social worker who finally answered at half past three in the morning.
“I’m sorry,” she was told. “We’re full up past our limit. Try back tomorrow.” With that, the door shut in her face.
She tried the few friends she knew well enough to call at this hour, but only got voice mail. Shoulders slumping, she went back to her car and drove to a shopping center where she and her three small children spent a restless night huddled against the cold.
In the morning she went home to face her husband, hopeful that the drunken rage had passed. No one knows whether she meant to stay or just gather a few supplies and clothes for her children, because her husband shot her and their children to death as they cowered in the car.
Quite simply, a lack of funding for the county’s only women’s shelter killed Marie Thomas. Sure, her husband pulled the trigger, but if she’d had a safe place to stay, this tragedy never would have happened.
I’m begging you, as I’m sure Marie would have begged if she’d known it was a life or death situation, to donate at least twenty dollars to help fund a second women’s shelter. The need is real and we need your help because we never want another woman to suffer the same fate Marie did.
Give generously because your contribution will indeed make a difference in many, many lives. Check off an amount on the form and use the enclosed to mail your donation.
It will only take a minute and it will help forever!
(Type Your Name)
You should expect letters of appeal to get a 25% response rate from people you know. A good response from a mass-mailing to a targeted list should be in the 5% range. The less targeted the list, the lower the response rate.
The same thing applies to your letter’s content. If it’s not precisely targeted at your reader’s emotions, then your appeal will fall flat.
Before finalizing your appeal, read your fundraising letter aloud. Anything that doesn’t ring true or that sounds flat needs to be rewritten. Hone your language to appeal strongly from the very first sentence and never let up.