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Fundraising Letters Are Easier to
Write with AIDA

by Alan Sharpe

Learn a lesson from professional direct mail copywriters. They follow a time-tested format in their sales letters, a format that you can also follow when writing direct mail fundraising letters for your non-for-profit organization. All you need to remember is AIDA.

AIDA is an acrostic for the four things you need to do, and the order you need to do them in, to write compelling donation request letters.


    The A stands for Attention. You need to grab it. Your envelope has to grab attention, and the opening line of your letter needs to grab attention. Your sole mission at this stage is to arrest their donor's attention so that they ignore the television, leave the other mail on the kitchen table, and sit down and read your letter right to the end.

    You can arrest attention in a number of ways:

    * start with a gripping narrative * ask a provocative question * state a seeming contradiction or paradox * open with a scintillating (and relevant) quote * crack a joke * start with the word "you"


    The I in AIDA stands for Interest. Professional direct mail copywriters who make their living by selling on paper know that arresting a reader's attention is not enough. That's just the start. The letter has to immediately stimulate some interest in the reader so that the reader continues reading.

    Plenty of headlines and photographs grab people's attention as they leaf through newspapers and magazines, but they only read the stories that interest them. This means that as soon as you have grabbed your donor's attention, you must follow up with content that stimulates interest.

    So what interests your donors? Changing the world. Making a difference. Relieving suffering. Saving lives. Transformation. Stimulate interest in your readers by showing why your letter and your message are of interest to them right now.


    As advertising giant David Ogilvy said, "You can't bore people into buying your product." Your fundraising appeal letter needs to move the heart and mind of each donor. It needs to create in them (or, more accurately, awaken in them), a Desire to respond to the case for support that you present on paper. One way to awaken this desire is to offer an opportunity for the donor to make an impact. Show in clear ways how they can partner with your organization to impact their world for the better.

    I'll give you an example from a newsletter that I received during the week that Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the surrounding area in 2005. This is what the publisher said in his introductory message:

    "I've had the news on all day today as I worked on getting this issue out. I finally had to turn to a ball game. . . I was getting too depressed. It's frustrating to see so many people in need and not being able to help (at least not right away). I hope and pray that all our readers in the areas hit by Katrina made it out okay."

    There is a man with a desire. The Category Five hurricane arrested his attention. The devastation kept his interest. And the human suffering, played out hourly on his television screen, created in him a deep desire to help. A desire so deep that he grew depressed because he could not satisfy it.

    That's the level of desire that you want to awaken in your donor's, except that you want to give them a really easy way to satisfy it! And that's where the final A in AIDA comes in.


    The A in AIDA stands for Action, or Ask. Professional direct mail copywriters always ask for the order. They want their readers to buy, and buy today. This simply means that every fundraising letter you write has to ask for the gift. Informing donors is all very well, but your letter is designed to raise funds. You can ask for the donation in a forceful way or in a gentle way, but either way you must ask for it.

If you follow these four simple, time-tested steps every time you sit down to craft an appeal letter, you will find that your writer's block doesn't last as long. And you'll find that your letters take on a more logical, compelling format, one that should increase your response rates.

© 2005 Alan Sharpe. Reprinted with permission.

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About the Author: Alan Sharpe publishes Fundraising Pointers, the free, weekly email newsletter about raising funds, building relationships and retaining loyal donors. Alan is the author of Breakthrough Fundraising Letters, Mail Superiority, and 25 handbooks on direct mail fundraising. Alan is also a speaker and workshop leader who delivers public seminars and teleseminars on direct mail fundraising. Sign up for Alan's newsletter at

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