Photos Ruin Fundraising Letters

One way to improve your fundraising letters is to not include photos in the letter copy. Why? Because the photos make your fundraising appeal letter look like a brochure instead of a personalized request for donations.

Why Photos Ruin Fundraising Letters

Your fundraising letter needs to establish a personal connection with the reader. Using a photo within the text of your donation appeal letter gives the reader the impression that your letter is an informational mass mailing, not an urgent direct request for funding assistance.

Master copywriter and direct mail fundraising consultant Alan Sharpe explains why in the article below.

Avoid Photos in Your Direct Mail Fundraising Letters

In today’s mail you receive two pieces of mail, a letter from someone you know, and a brochure.

Which one will you read first? Which one will you read all the way to the end? Likely the letter, right?

A letter is a piece of correspondence sent from one person to another. It’s personal.

Fundraising letters are no different. They communicate on paper what the sender would say if she was talking with you face to face or over the phone. The difference between a fundraising letter appeal and a face-to-face appeal is that you read the former but listen to the other.

This is the main reason your direct mail appeal letters need to look like letters and not like pages taken from a newsletter, brochure or annual report.

I’m talking in particular about photographs. Photographs have their place in your marketing and communications literature, and on your website. But they do not belong in your fundraising letters. Not in the body of the letter, anyway.

You can put a photo at the top of the letter as part of the letterhead. That’s often effective. But you must leave photos out of the rest of the letter. Photos placed in amongst the body copy, with the text wrapping around the images, immediately make your letter look informational rather than urgent.

That means your donors will be more likely to lay them aside after reading a paragraph or two. Letters that look like they are designed to inform can be put down. But letters that read like they are urgent demand to be read.

Images give your letter the look of a newsletter story, or a description of your services, the kind you’d find in one of your promotional brochures.

Photos tend to distract your readers. Photos take your reader’s eye away from the letter and slow the reader down. And since the goal of every letter you mail is to persuade the donor to read the letter and make a donation, anything that gets in the way of that aim is a bad idea.

I realize the temptation you face. I know how tempted you are to include a photo or two on page one, and another on page two, photos that present your case for support visually, photos that show your staff and volunteers hard at work making the world a better place. These photos belong in your donor newsletters, not your fundraising letters.

The final problem with photos and images in the body of your appeal letters is that they make your letters look like they are being mass-mailed to thousands. Which they are, of course. But you must avoid emphasizing that. A “Dear Friend” letter filled with photos and signed by a committee looks impersonal. But a “Dear Alan” letter with no photos, signed by someone I admire and trust, looks personal.

And the more personal your appeal letters are, the more money you’ll raise.

About The Author
Alan Sharpe, CFRE, is a fundraising consultant, author, trainer and speaker. He serves as Senior Strategist at Harvey McKinnon Associates, the full-service fundraising agency specializing in direct mail and monthly giving for the nonprofit sector. 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

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