And, just like there are strategies for asking for donations via email, over the phone, and even on social media, there are a few best practices that you should follow before you seal the envelope and put the stamp on your donation appeal letter.
Here are six awesome tips for asking for donations using letters.
1. Use a bold headline
Think of a letter’s headline as the subject line of an emailed donation appeal. It can’t be vague or boring. You have to grab your readers’ attention from the get go.
While the wording for your headline will differ depending on your intended audience as well as your organization’s particular mission, it will generally sound something like, “Help [your organization] raise money for [your mission/cause/etc.]”
Get as creative as you want with your headlines. It will likely be the first thing that the reader sees, and you’ll want to leave a good impression.
2. Keep it personal
Do not start off your letter with “Dear Donor,” or “To whom it may concern.” These letters will likely get thrown in the trash along with the other impersonal mail that your donors receive.
Instead, take the time to personalize your correspondence. If you’re sending out appeal letters to individuals, do some research to find out their preferred name. If a donor’s name is William but he goes by Bill, then call him Bill.
The same principle goes for letters sent to businesses. Instead of addressing the letter to the company at large, find out who is in charge of their corporate social responsibility initiatives. Addressing the letter to that particular person will help establish a more personal connection and better rapport with the company you are asking for donations from.
Keeping things personal in your appeal letters goes beyond the address, however. You’ll need to make sure that you are sending the right letters to different groups of people.
Segment your mailing list to include various correspondence to:
- New prospects
- Previous donors
- Corporate partnerships
- Local businesses
- And more
When you send out different appeals to different groups, you increase the chances of positive feedback and more donations. Sending out a general letter to everyone makes your organization seem impersonal.
3. Tell a story
Letters are the perfect medium to tell a story. Use your appeal letters to your organization’s advantage and educate individuals about your origins or particular projects that you are working toward.
Keep in mind that you don’t have a ton of space. Appeal letters really should be over a page, so whatever story you have to tell, make sure that you keep it short and to the point. You probably don’t need to cover every tiny detail, but provide readers with enough information to get them invested in your organization.
Do you have a particular success story that was made possible because of recent donations? Are you working on current projects that need a little more additional funding? Tell these stories within your letter to appeal to you readers.
Stories within appeal letters are all about emotion. Talk about who you helped or what you accomplished so that readers can connect emotionally and be more willing to donate once you formally ask them to.
4. Ask sincerely
After telling your nonprofit’s story, it’s time to make the actual appeal. This part of your letter is crucial. The way that you present your ask can either encourage a reader to give or can make them scoff and throw your letter in the trash before getting to the “Sincerely yours.”
Asking sincerely is key. Make sure that you aren’t begging for money; let donors know why you need donations and give them an incentive to give.
You laid the groundwork in the storytelling component of your letter, but the ask is where you get even more specific. Saying things like, “We need your money!” isn’t going to cut it.
Instead, offer up solutions to the problems that you’re trying to solve. If you organization helps children become more active, say something to the effect of, “Your donation of [insert number] will go toward building a playground at our new after school center. This playground will help children have a safe environment to play in while their parents are finishing up work.”
When you make your appeal specific and sincere, you let your reader know that you will be a good steward of their funds. It is more likely that a reader will give to a cause they feel personally connected to than a general ask for money.
5. Don’t forget the envelope
Great job! You’ve told your organization’s story, gotten personal with the reader, and made a stellar appeal. They’re ready to give!
But wait, how are they supposed to give if they have no way of getting money to you?
Make sure that you include a self-addressed and stamped envelope for donors to place their checks in after they’ve read your outstanding appeal letter.
You should also include more information like your website, physical address, phone number, and social media information within your letter to give donors other ways to get in touch with you once they place their donation in the mail.
6. Say thank you
Gratitude goes a long way. Say thank you after you receive a donor’s check by sending them a thank you card or giving them a call.
If the donation came from a local business or one of your corporate partners, you can show your appreciation in bigger ways like featuring them on your website as a sponsor or including them in your next email or direct mail newsletter.
Whatever size donation someone makes, you should always follow up and say thank you. Donor stewardship is one of the most important components of donor retention. Thanking donors is the first step in encouraging donors to give in the future.
Sending out appeal letters doesn’t have to be a mysterious process. By following these six strategies, you’ll be on your way to more donations and fewer “Return to Senders.”