You are a badass, it's true. But what makes you cool is not only you, but what you have committed to doing for others. Think about it. Lex Luthor is in it to build his own power, Superman is in it to save others. It that difference that makes Superman the hero and Lex the villain.
So yes, while you are the one running for office or putting in the blood, sweat, and tears to build your organization, it is important that you frame your fundraising letter as if it was being written about the donor, not you.
Here are five elements of every good fundraising letter.
1. Personal and Casual Tone
Fundraising letters are personal and they need to:
- Speak to the donor
- Meet the donor where he or she is
- Relate to and be and relevant to the person reading it
Keep your writing casual and in a conversational tone. Yes, big ideas like gender parity, or creating opportunity, drive you and your mission, but they are hard for a casual donor to wrap their mind around. The terms speak to the head, not the heart. Donors often get lost in what you mean and how their one individual donation can impact such major issues.
Tell a story about one of the students or people you seek to help. Speak to their sense of shared values and hopes for the world. Identify the change the donor wants to make in the world, and show how your cause helps them make it.
2. Use the Word “You”
One of the easiest ways to speak casually and directly to the donor is to use the word “you.” Look look at this page. We use the term “you” repeatedly. We want to show you we know what is it like to struggle with writing a good fundraising letter. Like you, we've tried to sharpen our message, relate to the donor, and inspire others to support our cause.
3. White Space and Short Paragraphs
Fundraising letters are skimmed. Think about it. Unless you are the Flash, the average person reads 200 words per minute. If your fundraising letter is more than 800 words you are asking your reader to spend five minutes reading your letter. Be honest with yourself, when was the last time you spent five minutes reading a letter you got in the mail?
Good fundraising letters are long enough to have substance and designed so the donor can pull out what is most important. Long sentences and long paragraphs feel overwhelming to the reader, making them much less likely to read any of it.
The solution: write short, everyday sentences, and concise paragraphs. Use formatting such as bolding, italicizing, and underlining to highlight key points. If your sentence is longer than a line and a half, cut it into two! If a paragraph flows over four to five lines, break it up!
4. Create Urgency Through a Deadline
Donors need urgency. They need a reason to give right then, and not set your letter on their desk to come back to it another day.
So what happens if you don't have urgency? Create it! Say you’ve set the goal to raise so much by the end of the month, quarter, or specific date. Create a seasonal membership drive to push recurring donors. Find a major donor to put up a match so you can challenge others.
5. Ask a specific amount and tie the gift directly to the results
Your ask is more successful, and donors actually like when they know what is expected of them. If a donor is weighing, “Should or should I not give to this cause?” they are much less engaged than if they are asking themselves "Can I afford or do I wanted to give $50 dollars to this cause?"
That's what you want, the donor to not be thinking about whether they should or shouldn't, but about how much they can donate.
You can also strengthen your ask by showing the donor how their contribution impacts your mission.
Running a youth development organization? Tell the story of one of your students and what the donation will buy that student (books, instruction time, materials, etc). Saving the environment? List how many trees you can plant. Running for office? How many phone calls, lawn signs, or piece of campaign literature can you buy with their donation?
The important thing is to ask for a specific amount and paint a picture of what that donation can do for your cause.
Direct mail is just one of many tactics that can help you fundraise. You should add a variety of methods to your plan for the most successful strategy.