Better Fundraising Letters Tell Stories

The best fundraising letters tell stories that pull the reader in and describe how lives have been changed for the better. Storytelling will help you raise more funds, but there is a format you should follow. Your donation letter should describe what someone’s life was like before something bad happened to them, what their life became before help arrived, and then what things are like for them now that help has arrived.

The Best Fundraising Letters Tell Stories

Master copywriter and fundraising expert Alan Sharpe describes how to find inspiring stories to tell in your fundraising letter and how to say it best. Read his letter writing advice in the guest article below.

To Write Better Fundraising Letters and Direct Mail Appeals, Attend AA Meetings

Some of the most gripping and moving stories I’m ever likely to hear, I heard at AA meetings. You see, at every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, a man or woman in recovery is invited to tell their story. Every story is different, but follows a simple formula. That formula is what makes AA meetings so powerful, and memorable. Incorporate that formula into your fundraising letters and you’ll touch hearts. Donations will follow.

I don’t suppose any alcoholic wants to stand up in a crowded church basement, clutching a Styrofoam cup of bad coffee, and have to tell a group of people how the bottle wrecked their relationships, their job, their family, their life. For many, they don’t know where to start, or where to end.

So AA long ago devised a simple formula to help their members tell their stories so that each story would have the greatest positive influence the hearers. To this day, before they stand up to speak, AA members are encouraged to describe three things: what life was like, what happened, and what life is like now.

Which means that, whether you attend an AA meeting in Ottawa or Glasgow, as I have, you’ll always hear a unique story that follows a familiar pattern. Each speaker describes what their life was like under the influence. Then they recount how they came across a solution to their addiction in the people and program of AA. Then they draw a picture of what life is like today, sober.

I’ve heard stories that made me weep, others that made me spill my coffee I laughed so hard. What you hear about in AA meetings is usually an unvarnished saga of pain, anguish, helplessness and despair, a sudden and unanticipated turning point, followed by hope, redemption, recovery.

You can follow this same formula in your direct mail fundraising letters. Start with what life was like for those you help, describe how you intervened, and then show what life is like now. Your donors will thank you for it.

About The Author
Alan Sharpe, CFRE, is a fundraising practitioner, author, trainer and speaker. Through his weekly newsletter, books, handbooks and workshops, Alan helps not-for-profit organizations worldwide to acquire more donors, raise more funds and build stronger relationships. Sign up for “Sharpe Tips,” Alan’s free, weekly, email newsletter, at
© 2010 Alan Sharpe.

More Fundraising Letter Advice

How To Get More Donations – In all types of fundraising you are essentially making a donation request. So, what do you say or do to get more donations for your cause? Answer one simple question. How will my donation change the world?

What’s In It For Me? – In fundraising, pay attention to psychological motivation – People always want to know what’s in it for them. The benefits of your fundraising must be quickly and clearly explained in terms of “What’s In It For Me” so that people can relate quickly to your donation request.

Fundraising Letters That Work – To write fundraising letters that work, the writer needs to tell a story that connects with the target audience. The best way to do that is by telling the story in the first-person so that prospective donors can experience the need your non-profit addresses with its support and services.

How To Boost Your Appeal Letter’s Response Rate – Here are 3 ways to boost the response rate of your fundraising letters. The first thing you need to do is offer more than just the standard donation appeal letter reply device.

Eight Donation Letter Tips – Eight tips on writing a great donation letter – How to craft your appeal letter with a personal touch and increase your response rate. Always use the word you!

How To Write A Fundraising Letter – Advice and tips on what works and what doesn’t when asking for funds by mail.