Don’t Start Your Fundraising Letters As A Stranger

One of the things you should never do with your fundraising letters is address them to Dear Friend because it can cost you literally thousands of dollars in lost donations. It’s impersonal and insulting to your readers – whether they are existing donors or simply prospects – that you don’t seem to know who they are.

In this article from master copywriter Alan Sharpe, he explains just how it feels to be on the receiving end of such a letter and how this simple mistake can destroy a productive donor relationship. With two decades of fundraising experience in writing donations letters for hundreds of clients, he knows what works and what doesn’t.

Dear Friend: Don’t do it. Don’t start your fundraising letters with “Dear Friend.”After all, when was the last time you received a letter from someone dear to you, addressing you as “Dear Friend?” Never, right?

The days of the Dear Friend letter are dead. So let’s bury the Dear Friend letter together.

I heard recently of a chairman of the board of a national charity who has given his charity millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of his time, yet he still receives their fundraising appeals addressing him as “Dear Friend.” Ouch!

Your fundraising letters are intended to make friends as well as solicit funds. So don’t send form letters to make friends. Friends write personal letters. Letters addressed to their friends by name.

My wife never sends me a letter that begins, “Dear Friend.” Neither do my friends. And neither should you when writing to your donors.

I realize that personalization costs more. I know that you save money if you send everyone the same Dear Friend letter. You don’t have to insert custom fields into your letter. You don’t have to perform a time-consuming mail-merge.

You don’t have to match the addresses on your letters with the addresses on your reply cards and mailing envelopes (assuming you are using closed-face envelopes).

You can compare your costs for mailing a personalized letter versus mailing a Dear Friend letter, and you’ll also find that the Dear Friend letter is cheaper. But I’d like to suggest, and so I will, that you are measuring the wrong thing.

Return on investment shouldn’t be your only criteria for measuring the success of your fundraising letters. What about donor loyalty? What about donor attrition? What about the lifetime value of each donor? What about plain old courtesy?

Donors stop giving for any number of reasons, but at the top of the list is feeling unappreciated. Think of that chairman of the board that I mentioned a minute ago. Can’t you just hear him saying to himself, as he receives yet another Dear Friend appeal, “I have given this charity millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of my time, and they treat me as though they don’t even know my name”?

Yes, Dear Friend letters are expedient.

But expedience is not your only aim in running a successful fundraising letter program. Robbing banks is also expedient, but it’s not right. Using guilt as a motivator in your letters is also expedient. It raises funds in the short term. But it’s not right.

And starting every letter with Dear Friend is more expedient than customizing each letter, but it’s not the right thing to do.You should bury the Dear Friend letter because it is impersonal and rude. It alienates perfectly nice donors, people who will continue to support your organization with their treasure, time and talents if you will only treat them as partners and not as automated bank machines. Addressing your donors by name makes them feel special and appreciated.

At the Business Depot where I buy my office supplies, there is a store clerk who always remembers my name. She serves hundreds of customers. Yet when I approach the cash, she makes me feel like I’m a special customer. I feel a little flattered every time. Her name, by the way, is Allyson.

Specialists in customer service have long known that remembering a customer’s name—and using it—is one of the most effective ways (and free ways) to encourage repeat business, customer loyalty and free word-of-mouth advertising. The same is just as true in fundraising, although I have no empirical studies to back that up.

Please don’t start your letters with Dear Friend. Donors take it personally.

Read more fundraising letter tips at

More Fundraising Letters

How to Write Fundraising Letters That Motivate Donors – Motivating strangers to give their money away is one of the hardest jobs around. It’s difficult to do face to face. And it’s even harder to do by mail.

Successful Fundraising Letters Share Eight Qualities – If you want your next fundraising letter to be successful and effective, there are certain nuances you must master to achieve the right results.

Write Fundraising Letters That Donors Can’t Resist – Master copywriter Alan Sharpe offers practical advice to non-profit groups for boosting the results of your appeal letters.

How To Write A Fundraising Letter – Advice and tips on what works and what doesn’t in donation request letters.

How To Write Fundraising Letters – Here are detailed instructions on how to write great fundraising letters, including a sample to get you started.

Fundraising Letter Sample Template – This sample fundraising letter template offers examples of a specific method of asking for money, including providing a quick psychological justification for a positive response.

Sample Fundraising Thank You Letter – Here are some tips on how to say thanks to your donors, plus a sample fundraising thank you letter you can copy.

Where To Find Creative Ideas For Your Appeal Letters – Creativity is key for keeping your fundraising letters fresh and bringing in sufficient donations. So, where do you find creative ideas for your appeals? The answer, surprisingly, is right under your nose.