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Fundraising Letter Writing Tips
from Readerís Digest

by Alan Sharpe

If your donor has the choice of reading your fundraising letter or reading the latest issue of Readerís Digest, which one will she read?

This is not a trick question. The competition for your donorís attention has never been greater. If you want your donors and members to read your fundraising letters from start to finish, learn a few lessons from the editors at Readerís Digest, the largest-selling magazine in the world.

  1. Hook your reader with an irresistible headline

    Sniper on the Loose.
    Heart Attack at 55 MPH.
    Breast Cancer Myths.
    Five Items You Shouldnít Buy Used.
    50 Cleanest (Dirtiest) Cities in America.

    These headlines from the covers of recent issues are hard to resist, arenít they? The editors, in six words or fewer, announce the article topic and tantalize you at the same time. Readerís Digest is famous for this. They are the undisputed experts at writing irresistible headlines. Follow their lead by writing irresistible headlines on your mailing envelopes, and writing irresistible overlines for your letters.

  2. Pick a hot topic that interests your readers

    Look at those headlines again and notice the topic.

    Sniper on the Loose [public safety]
    Heart Attack at 55 MPH [human drama]
    Breast Cancer Myths [womenís health]
    Five Items You Shouldnít Buy Used [consumer safety]
    50 Cleanest (Dirtiest) Cities in America [environment]

    Each topic has broad appeal. The topic of your donation request letter must also have broad appeal. It must resonate with the largest number of donors possible.

  3. Keep your reader hooked

    Your donor opens your envelope and starts reading. Now what? You must keep him reading. Thatís what Readerís Digest does. On the cover of the magazine is the headline and page number for the article. Turn to that page and the editors keep you hooked by repeating the headline and then, beneath it, placing a subhead that draws you into the article. For example, for their story, Heart Attack at 55 MPH, they included this subhead: ďAn eight-year-old girl is trapped in a moving car after her father has a heart attack while driving. Can she be saved?Ē

  4. Start your letter with a bang

    The first sentence in your appeal letter is the most important one youíll write. It must be strong or youíll lose your reader. The editors at Readerís Digest know this too. Thatís why they always start their stories and articles with surprise, action, intrigue or drama. Consider this opening for their article entitled, ďDeadly Neglect: The shocking truth about whatís going on in Americaís nursing homes.Ē

    ďLoren Richards, an 84-year-old Kentucky farmer, spent his last days bedridden and in intense pain. A bowel impaction that went neglected and untreated for several days finally caused a fatal heart attack, after a morning spent screaming for a doctor who never came.Ē

    That opening has all the ingredients of a great opening. It starts telling a story. It involves a person. It involves human suffering. It involves injustice.

Readerís Digest doesnít publish many original articles. Instead, as the name suggests, the magazine re-publishes articles and stories that have appeared in other publications. Only the best stories make it into Readerís Digest.

People read Readerís Digest from cover to cover because itís informative, entertaining and inspiring. Make your fundraising letters informative, entertaining and inspiring and your donors will read your letters cover to cover as well. And respond with a donation.

© 2006 Alan Sharpe. Reprinted with permission.


About the Author: Alan Sharpe is a professional fundraising letter writer, instructor, author and newsletter publisher who helps non-profit organizations raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors using cost-effective, compelling, creative fundraising letters. Sign up for free weekly tips like this at
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