Make Your Donation Letter A Quick Read

A great donation letter is one that can be read quickly, one that’s easily skimmed for highlights and packs a powerful call to action. Let’s face facts here. Hardly anyone is going to read every word of your fundraising letter. In fact, you’re doing great just getting them to open it.

So, don’t waste the opportunity by making your appeal letter boring, formal, dense, filled with jargon, or take too long to grab their attention. Attention spans are growing shorter, people have other things on their minds besides your letter, plus lots of distractions like incoming calls or text messages.

Make your donation letter a quick read and watch your response rate soar. Master copywriter and fundraising consultant Alan Sharpe describes how to do just that in the guest article below.

Help Donors Read Your Fundraising Letters Quickly

Your donor is busy or in a hurry. Or both. That means your fundraising letter is an interruption. Your donor is doing something else when your appeal arrives.

Busy donors in a hurry are unlikely to read your letter word for word from the Dear to the Sincerely. They skim. They read the P.S. They read the opening line. They dance about.

So what can you do to help your donor read your letter and respond with a donation?

Help them read quickly. Start with a short opening sentence.

Make it so provocative, intriguing and compelling that your donor simply has to continue reading.

Then make your sentences shorter than normal.

But don’t make them all the same length. Otherwise your letter establishes a cadence like this. One that is sure to lull your reader to sleep.

So stop. Grab your donor’s attention with short interjections. Two-word sentences. Like this. And feel free to start your sentences with connectors (and, but, so, that’s why, in other words).

Because they give your letter momentum and keep your reader reading. Write the way you talk. Which is to say, informally. Conversationally. Friendly-like.

Use contractions liberally on paper the same way you do in person.

Don’t be like one charity I wrote fundraising appeals for, who edited my letters by committee, and who were persuaded that contractions were inelegant and vulgar. I couldn’t say couldn’t. I wasn’t to say wasn’t. They reversed all my contractions, making the letters sound formal and official instead of informal and friendly. Don’t be formal.

Fill your letter with active verbs. The passive voice is to be avoided.

Don’t say, “children in the IDP camps are being fed emergency rations.” Say, “We’re feeding the children in the IDP camps emergency rations.”

Use the active voice.

And while I’m on the subject of IDP camps, don’t call them that. The majority of your readers don’t know that an IDP is an Internally Displaced Person. They don’t even know what an Internally Displaced Person is. So spell out acronyms and initialisms.

Avoid jargon.

Translate your NGO-speak and sociologese into English. Today’s English.

By the way, you don’t have to write a short letter just to get your donor to read it quickly.

All you need to do is make each word easy to understand, and each sentence easy to get through.

Your donor will thank you for it, with a donation.

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

More Donation Letter Advice

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.

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 that your non-profit addresses with its support and services.

Donation Letter Tips – Writing donation letters that produce the desired result is an art form that must include four major elements. Your donation request letter must clearly communicate who you are, what you are raising money for, why they should donate to your cause, and how you use those donations.

Fundraising Donation Request Letters – Donation request letters work best if they have AIDA. Learn a lesson from professional direct mail copywriters. They follow a time-tested format in their sales letters, one that you can also follow when writing direct mail appeal letters for your non-profit organization.