When you run a non-profit, writing fundraising letters can be tricky. You need to ask for money but don’t want to sound like you’re begging. You want to tug at the heartstrings but don’t want to come across as sappy. You also want people to feel good about the contributions they’re making but don’t want to oversell the impact of a small donation. To balance those conflicting elements and craft the best possible appeal letter possible, you need to be specific, straightforward, and striking.
Outline Specific Benefits
For the best results, consider showing your donors exactly how their donations are going to help. Whenever possible, call out a specific example of who you’re helping or what you’re doing. For instance, if your non-profit provides nutritious school lunches to disadvantaged children, introduce one or two of these children by name. Tell a story about them and describe exactly how their lives have changed thanks to generous donations. If possible, give donors the option to receive updates on the status of the project, so they get to see their donation helping people in real time.
Ideally, you should write your appeal letter from a place of strong personal belief. While some non-profits have the money to hire an outside professional to write an appeal letter, it’s often an in-house job. But, you can use this fact to your advantage. If you already work for the non-profit, you probably have strong convictions about the cause you’re supporting.
Remember, the best salespeople sell products that they themselves would buy, and similarly, the best non-profit fundraising letters come from writers who believe in their cause 110%. If you find you’re not the best at articulating the importance of your non-profit’s mission, maybe you know a very enthusiastic coworker who could lend you some help.
Include a Sense of Urgency
Non-profits constantly need funding to stay afloat and support their missions, but this fact alone might not be enough to convince someone to donate, especially if they’ve never donated before. Instead of just asking for funds, try pairing a specific goal with a strict deadline.
To illustrate how this works, imagine you need donations to buy winter clothing for refugees. You send out an appeal letter in September and tell your readers that you need their donations by the end of October. That ensures that the coats and mittens will be available when they’re needed most, but the deadline also creates a sense of urgency for your donors. Without a clear deadline, your donors may put off making the donation indefinitely.
Strive for Clarity
So that you reach as wide as possible an audience, you need to get your point across as simply and clearly as possible. To that end, try to avoid vague language and complicated jargon. For example, instead of using a potentially confusing phrase such as "mitigating risks," consider using a simple term such as "helping." Instead of asking for donors to "help with harm reduction for women and children," say "your donation will buy food and shelter for a homeless families." While the first phrase may be clear to people in your field, it’s not going to be clear to the average donor.
Most importantly, when you’re asking for money, your instincts may tell you to beat around the bush a little — to use words like "assistance," or "support." Don’t fall into this trap. You need money — so ask for money.
It’s also a good practice to use the second-person point of view as much as you can. Using "you" and "your" to address the reader directly makes your letter feel more personal. Consider how you feel when someone asks you for help versus when someone simply says they need help. In the latter case, you might feel comfortable hanging back and waiting for someone else to come to the rescue. "We need your help" is a lot harder to ignore than "we need donations."
Include as much information as you need to get your point across, but don’t get too bogged down in too much text. To reach as many people as possible, your letter should be as easily understood by someone with a Master’s degree in English as it is by someone who’s just learning the language.
Use Visuals Effectively
Quite simply, visuals are nice to see. They make a letter more attractive and more inviting, and you should find ways to use these elements to your advantage. First, the envelope itself should be visually compelling. That helps to ensure that it gets opened and not tossed in the recycling.
Then, the letter itself should also be appealing. Include a photo or two of the people or communities you’ve helped, and if you have a logo, make sure it’s bright and noticeable.
The key to getting crucial funding for a non-profit organization is being able to explain the importance of your cause to as wide as possible an audience. This means making your fundraising letters accessible and easy to understand, while also creating a sense of urgency for the reader. Practice setting clear goals, and using specific examples to showcase how you plan to use the donations. Soon you’ll be well on your to fulfilling your mission.