Writing Fundraising Appeals: Our Top 10 Tips


Credit: Howard Lake

At The Hired Pens, some of our most rewarding work involves supporting the fundraising efforts of nonprofit organizations we admire — from a few of the country’s top hospitals to small, local agencies with whom we work on a pro bono basis.

We’ve written enough fundraising appeals over the years to know what resonates with donors. Here are some important things we’ve learned:

  1. Communicate impact. Donors have a lot of demands on their checkbooks. More and more, they want proof that their money can effect real change. Tell them, as specifically as possible, how (and even how many) people or programs will benefit from their support. If the reader is convinced that her generosity will make a difference, then you’ve done your job.
  2. Stick to one theme. Whether you’re telling the story of someone who benefitted from the organization’s work or highlighting a hospital’s new clinical program, every letter should be built upon one overriding theme. Drive home that message — don’t be scattershot.
  3. Make it personal. Remember: You’re composing a letter, not an article or press release. Keep the tone professional but warm, and address your audience directly by using “you” where possible.
  4. Choose the right signer. Again, since a fundraising appeal should be written to an actual person, it should also come from an actual person. That might be a patient who received excellent care at a hospital, a student who graduated from a school or someone who benefitted from an agency’s services. People like this can speak most powerfully to the organization’s impact. (In some cases, it’s appropriate for the letter to come from someone in power, such as the institution president or a board member. But you may risk sacrificing emotional resonance.)
  5. Share good news. Has the organization won an award? Secured an important grant? Added a service? If you have something timely to share that will lift readers’ spirits, let people know about it.
  6. Make it digestible. Keep paragraphs short so that the information is scannable. Use terminology that people can understand (especially important if writing about medical advances, for example). And keep the letter to a reasonable length — one side, or two sides at most, should do it.
  7. Avoid repetition. Just as it’s hard not to get caught up in the same tired phrases that have a lulling effect in business writing, it’s challenging not to repeat certain key words. Look for instances of repetition and try to mix it up a bit (e.g. gift, contribution, donation).
  8. Make the “ask” stand out. You’ve laid out the evidence of the great work that’s happening. Now be direct in asking the audience to donate — today — and explaining how to do so. Some organizations find that adding specific dollar amounts is effective with their donor base. (For example: “A donation of $25, $50 or even $100 will make a real difference in the work we do.”)
  9. Make it readable. Older people comprise the largest segment of the donor base for most nonprofits. Don’t make them work too hard to read your fundraising appeal. Depending on the font style, set the font size to 11 or 12 pt.
  10. Say thank you. If you’re writing to past donors, be sure to express your gratitude for their loyal support. A failure to do so might leave them wondering whether you even realize they’ve given in the past. Thank them — early and often.

The bottom line: People want to support organizations doing good work. A well-written fundraising appeal should make it easy for them to feel good about giving.

P.S. Use a postscript. The old P.S. offers an opportunity to reinforce the call to action, remind donors they can donate online, offer thanks for their generosity or all of the above.

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2 replies
  1. Judy Wilson says:

    This guide to writing fundraising proposals seems like it would be helpful for anyone to know. My sister wants to take the summer off to volunteer in China, but she has to pay for the trip herself. Maybe this information will help her raise money for her China volunteer trip. Communicating the impact her volunteer work will be for the people she’ll be interacting with seems like it will help her get the money she’ll need. Telling her to write it as though she’s composing a letter seems like an important part of making it personal to the reader, so maybe that will help her raise the money she needs for her trip.

  2. Dan O'Sullivan says:

    Thanks for the note, Judy – glad you got something out of our tips. Good luck to your sister!

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