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Do Your Donation Request Letters Speak to
Someone Or to Everyone?

by Alan Sharpe

The secret to success in direct mail fundraising is to write to an individual, not to a list. Write to someone, not to everyone. Take this short quiz to discover if your appeal letters are personal or impersonal.

  1. Is your letter addressed to "Dear Friend" or to "Dear Fred"?

    This one is an obvious give-away. Which means I shouldn't need to mention it. But I do. A letter-writer who refuses to acknowledge you as a person (one with a name) is not trying very hard to keep your friendship alive.

  2. Is your letter signed by a committee?

    A fundraising letter, by its very nature, is most compelling when it is written by one person, or at least signed by one person. It should be a passionate and persuasive communication from one mind to another, or, more accurately, one heart to another. Which means it should never be signed by two people or more. Your letter will not gain more credibility or attract more donations by being signed by your executive director, board chair and treasurer.

  3. Do you say "you and me" or "them and us"?

    The easiest way to show that you are writing to everyone in general and not to somone in particular is to speak to your readers in the plural and of yourself in the plural. So instead of saying, "Your donation will mean a great deal to me right now," you instead say, "Donations from our supporters mean a great deal to us right now."

  4. Does your letter prove you know me?

    A donor wrote to me last week, marvelling at what careful records we kept, and expressing her gratitude that my last appeal letter had thanked her for her last gift. The letter had said something along these lines: "I am especially grateful to you for your last donation, which we received in April of last year." The easiest way to prove to your individual donor that you know her is to write something in your letter that is unique to her. Mention her home town, year of graduation, date of last visit to your facility, known interests, spouse's name or something else unique.

Writing an impersonal letter is easy. Writing a personal letter is harder, and takes more time. But pays off in the long run. You have my word on that.

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About the Author:

If you need help making your fundraising letters more personal, read Handbook Number 23, 53 Creative Ways to Personalize Your Fundraising Letters. Build rapport, sound conversational, show interest and strengthen relationships with donors. Details at my website, below.

Alan Sharpe, CFRE, is a fundraising practitioner, author, trainer and speaker. Through his weekly newsletter, books, handbooks and workshops, Alan helps not-for-profit organizations worldwide to acquire more donors, raise more funds and build stronger relationships. As the Director of Direct Development with The Gideons International In Canada, Alan manages their direct mail, major gifts and planned giving programs. Sign up for "Sharpe Tips," Alan's free, weekly, email newsletter, at

copyright © 2009 Alan Sharpe Reprinted with permission.

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