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How to Write an Appeal Letter for Fundraising

In nonprofit fundraising, writing an appeal letter for fundraising (and donation letters) is a big part of supporting the cause. With such a large ask, you’re probably wondering how to write a good fundraising letter. There are many things that go into a fundraising appeal letter, but today we’re going to focus on the length of your letter. Does a longer letter perform better? The answer, in short (no pun intended), is yes.

However, it’s very important to realize that it’s not just the quantity that matters here, it is also the quality.

If your nonprofit takes it upon itself to write a long(er) fundraising letter, then it’s exponentially more important that each and every word matters. The letter—as a whole—has to be well-written, easy to read through and built to capture the donor’s attention.

In an article entitled “Long Letters Do Work Better in Fundraising,” the author—Jeff Brooks—makes a case that fundraising letters are “a connection to people [the recipient] is interested in and causes [the recipient] cares about.”

Being a reader and a lover of mail are two qualities that all donors tend to share, and it helps explain why direct mail is such a powerful fundraising medium. Brooks has even tested this short vs. long letter theory and found that, “the shorter message only does better about 10 percent of the time.”

When is the time for a short message? In times of urgency, perhaps. But by and large, you’ll have some time to prepare a fundraising letter. So, whether you’re a natural born writer, or someone whose typing experience is limited to text messages, below are several tips for tackling longer fundraising appeal letters formats.

Before writing your letter, determine your goals

Sitting down to write your fundraising letter may seem daunting—after all, a blank document is just staring right at you and there typically is a lot of groundwork to cover in a fundraising letter.

A good place to start is by identifying your desired outcome. What do you want this letter to achieve? This should be your minimum definition of success for this piece. Keep it simple and basic and try not to over think it. Some sample desired outcomes may include:

  • Make a donation online
  • Benefits of recurring gifts
  • Sign-up for our mailing list
  • Join us for an event

Consider your audience

Once you’ve identified what you know you want out of the letter, think about your audience. More specifically consider what you want them to think, feel and do upon reading your letter. Once you can visualize things from their perspective, you’ll know what points you’ll need to hit in your communication in order to incite the right thoughts, feelings and actions.

Use these fundraising letter examples to get started on knowing your audience more:

  • Think: This is a great nonprofit with a mission I believe in.
  • Feel: I’m inspired; they need my help.
  • Do: I’m going to submit my donation now.

Remember that good fundraising letters are motivating and sincere. Ensure that your tone remains that way throughout the entirety of the letter, from introduction to closing.

Fundraising appeal letter design

The appearance of your letter is just as important as what it says. Not only should it look professional in nature, but it has to be readable—especially if you’re wanting your recipient to stick with it and read it until the very end.

First, consider the overall look. Think about your own tendencies and what type of letter you are most likely to read. Do you prefer reading something that looks like some long-winded, professional training manual with sophisticated, flowery words that you have to look up on Google?

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a snore. How about a letter that’s easy to read, looks engaging and you can breeze through if you wanted? That’s more like it!

Many think that having a professional looking piece that’s overdesigned and uses 11 size font is a must. But that’s not the kind of letter that says “I’m genuine” to the donor – it actual comes across as just another letter from an organization that wants your money.

Also, you don’t want to lose the reader half-way because their eyes hurt or they got stuck on a complex sentence.

That said, combat readability issues by:

  • Writing in short, digestible paragraphs
  • Using elementary-level words
  • Writing in story form that keep things interesting
  • Using bullet points instead of full sentences
  • Highlighting the most important information like contact information and a call(s)-to-action
  • Using bold font and underlining for emphasis
  • Indenting paragraphs to help with navigating through paragraphs
  • Using repetition for key points and a clear call-to-action
  • Writing with 14-16 size font (it might look goofy to you at first, but your donors will thank you for saving their eyes)

If you’re looking for a way to improve a fundraising letter, consider adding length—in addition to having easy readability. Most likely, when it all comes together, it’ll boost response and it can generate a higher average gift, too.

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