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Step By Step Guide to Writing a Fundraising Letter

by Sandra Sims


One of the best ways to raise money when you're participating in a run/walk event is a fundraising letter. This is also one of the easiest fundraisers! You are simply writing a letter to family and friends asking them to join you in supporting a worthy charity. Your only costs are for paper and postage, so all of the proceeds go directly to the cause.

Letters asking for a financial gift work especially well for organizations that support a specific cause. This includes groups such as health advocacy, hunger or disaster relief, and public arts such as museums and symphonies. These are groups that people can easily identify as contributing to the community and the world.

Understanding why people respond to fundraising letters is important. The letter should appeal to the concerns and motivations of the reader. Cold facts and statistics may be interesting, but generally will not win over new supporters. Make the cause "real" to your reader, and show them why they should care about it.

Some of the reasons why people donate:

  1. Because you asked - This is the number one reason people give. If the letter comes from a personal friend or family member the reader is even more likely to donate.

  2. Personal interests - Your letter is most likely to appeal to those who have a personal interest in your cause. People who are already interested in the cause will appreciate the work of the charity. They may also enjoy keeping informed about news and the latest developments in that subject area. For example, someone who has a family history of cancer may be more likely to support a health or cancer related charity. People who already have an affinity for your subject area will be more likely to donate.

  3. People believe their monetary gift will make a difference - You are offering a way for people to contribute to society simply by writing a check. They are helping to solve a problem, one that they otherwise would not be able to on their own.

  4. People are generous - Giving is a deeply held value for many people. Giving to charitable causes reinforces our belief that we are good people.

Get Ready to Write

  1. Decide who your audience is for your letter. Are they current supporters or new donors? How familiar are they with your cause? This will effect your tone and the material you choose to write about.

      Tip: If you are doing a walk for charity, you will primarily be writing to people who already know you: your friends and family.

  2. Anticipate the reader's questions and answer them. When someone receives a fundraising letter, many questions arise, even if subconsciously. They will wonder - Who is this group? Are they reputable? Will the donation go to the cause or administrative costs? How much do I have to send? On a sheet of paper brainstorm all the many questions that could arise when someone gets your letter. Think of as many as possible, be they obvious or obscure. Now on the right hand side, next to each question, write a brief answer. Review the list and prioritize which questions are most important. You can use your answers later when you start to craft your letter.

  3. Ask for a specific suggested donation amount in the letter. Tie this amount to something tangible. For example, "your gift of just $15 will feed one needy family this holiday season." Don't be afraid to ask for a specific amount. Your supporters will feel comfortable that their donation is not too small or too large. Plus, some people will give more than your suggested amount.

  4. What date would you like the response back? Giving a deadline increases the sense of urgency for the reader, and the number of responses.

  5. Get an idea about what has worked for other fundraisers. Collect letters you get in the mail, and view other sample letters. Make observations about style and content.

Make it Personal

Before we begin writing, let's just daydream a little. Imagine that you are talking to a friend face to face. You say, "Hey, did you hear about the XYC issue?" Your enthusiasm is evident, so your friend is intrigued, "No, tell me about them." You describe the cause or situation and why it is so important. You relate the cause to a personal situation, or tell a heart wrenching story about someone effected by XYZ. Now your friend is thinking, "Gosh this is a terrible situation, someone should do something." You tell them how a worthy charity needs funds so it can solve this problem. A specific financial gift will greatly help the XYZ Foundation help people in need. You ask for the donation and your friend pulls out the checkbook!

This might be a simplified version, but you get the idea. Write the letter as if you are talking to someone. Be personable. If possible, include a true story of someone effected by the cause and/or how your organization has helped them. This helps the reader identify with the need. They will feel like they are helping an individual rather than a vague idea.

Write directly to the questions you brainstormed about earlier. Answer the questions, and you have reduced the possibility of rejection. You are easing people's fears about sending a gift. Your supporters will feel good about donating to the cause.

Finally, remember to ask for the gift. You are offering your reader the chance to help with a worthy cause. Get them to take direct action today, without delay!

Remember the Basics

While you want to make your letter personal, don't forget the basics of writing.

  • Keep the letter to 1-2 pages, any longer and your reader may loose interest.

  • Make the message easy to understand, don't get bogged down in too many numbers or jargon they may not know.

  • Keep your letter focused on the topic; don't chase rabbits.

  • Remember to use Standard English, good grammar and correct spelling.

  • Sign the letter! Your letter comes from someone in particular, not just the group.

  • Catch the readers eye If possible include pictures. These can be black and white or color, and printed on the letter itself. Again, this helps put a face to your cause.

  • Use of text features such as bold and underline, if used appropriately can further enhance your message.

  • Use short paragraphs, with a space in between each.

  • Use standard margins of 1 to 1 inches on each side of the page.

  • Be sure to use a font that is easy to read with a minimum 10 pt, preferably 11 or 12-pt size.

  • Include a return address, phone number, web address and email contact if possible.

Make it Easy to Respond

Requesting a specific gift amount is the first step in making the response easy. To further ease your donor's response, include a response card, and pre-addressed return envelope. If possible, make the envelope postage paid.

One Final Review

Ask others in your group to read your letter and give feedback. Also ask people not familiar with the organization, so you can get a fresh perspective. Get someone with a flair for writing and a keen eye to proofread. Decide what changes you want to make, and edit the letter.

Check Your Mailbox

Seeing those return envelopes in your mailbox is exciting! You may be surprised at who responds and how generous people are. Be sure to keep track of your responses, who donates and in what amounts.

Sending thank you letters or notes is very important. These can be handwritten notes, or typed letters as long as you sign them. When I did Team in Training, I bought thank you cards and hand wrote the message. After the marathon, I sent pictures of me with my medal to some of my supporters. You may think of other ways to personally thank your supporters.

Tax receipts need to be sent to people who donate over a certain amount. If you are participating in a walk/run event, the charity usually handles this.

Follow up with those who do not respond within a few weeks. A phone call, email, or postcard will work. Many times people intend to respond, but simply have forgotten.

Celebrate!

Remember why you are doing fundraising for your group. No matter how many donations you raise, every dollar helps. You are truly making a difference!

Sample Letters



Copyright © 2003, Step By Step Fundraising / Sandra Sims
All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited.
Reprinted with permission.

***********************


About the Author: Sandra Sims has been participating in walk/run event fundraisers for over 10 years. She is the editor and publisher of Step By Step Fundraising, a resource for volunteer fundraisers participating in charity run/walk events. Visit http://www.StepByStepFundraising.com to find out more.
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