3 Essentials for a Great Appeal Letter

Image: Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As we come into solicitation season and you are drafting your year-end appeal letters, here are three tips to make your letters stand out from the crowd – and raise more money for your mission. Bonus: These tips can also work for email solicitations!

Format Wisely

Good news – someone in this world has time to study which fonts are easiest to read. They’ve also figured out the ideal length for skimmable sentences. Veteran fundraiser, Tom Ahern, author of this great book, points out that serif fonts (like Times New Roman) are four times easier to read than sans serif fonts (e.g., Arial). 

The optimal length for a skimmable sentence is 70 characters or less. Skimmable is important because – sad, but true – the recipients of your letters will not read every word!

Format your appeal letter, in a serif font, using short sentences, short paragraphs, and plenty of white space. The overall appearance of your letter will be more appealing and accessible to donors than would a dense block of text.

Tell a Compelling Story

Your clients’ success stories are your organization’s success stories. Try structuring your letter around a client’s story. Or you can include a couple of client stories in SHORT vignettes. 

“Client” here refers to whoever is served by your mission – for example, student, patient, museum-goer, environmental concern, member, etc.

A story about an individual being served by your mission is much more compelling than a story about an organization or a long list of statistics (remember this post?).

And remember, your successes have happened because of your donors and their support. Tell your compelling story while tying the success back to your donor. Here’s how to do this in two short sentences: 
Imagine you are Charles. Now imagine what you can do to support his journey. (credit)

Keep it Donor-Centered

To write a donor-centered appeal letter, use a personal, less formal tone. Use the words “you” and “your.” A lot.

Link a donor’s gift directly to positive results. You’ll find many examples of donor-centered communications by Googling “donor-centered.” 

Take a look at excerpts from two letters below to see how all three of these tips transform an appeal:

Excerpt from Letter 1

Dear First Name,

On behalf of the board and staff of Kids Pantry, I want to thank you for your continuing support of our work to end hunger for young children in our city. Over the past year, we have:

•    Provided meals to 200 children ages 5 to 12
•    Taught cooking classes for 75 parents who want their families to eat better; and
•    Set up 2 partnerships with local food pantries that have agreed to stay open during weekend hours for children whose cupboards are bare.

Excerpt from Letter 2

Dear First Name,

What do you do when you are hungry? 

You may not realize it, but reaching into the pantry or heading out to the grocery store is a luxury that many in our community don’t enjoy.

Take Jerry. He has been working steadily in the construction industry for 7 years. But his $12/hour wage is not enough to fully support his wife and their 3 small children. Every month, Jerry and his wife choose 4 days during the month when the family will not eat.

You can change this for Jerry. Your support gives Jerry and his family the food they need every day of every month.

Hear the difference? Which letter got your attention? Keep these tips in mind as you prepare your organization’s appeal letters this season. And all the best with your year-end fundraising!

What are your tips for writing effective solicitation letters? Please share in the Comments box below!

Special gift for you: Conquer Your Fear of Asking for Money, a step-by-step guide, is available here (click).