Every week, I add new posts to the Causeview blog. The posts take a long time to research, and I end up spending hours reading blogs by industry experts. Over time, I’ve come to respect the opinions of these experts and see how helpful their advice can be.
One of the most popular blogs that we’ve posted was about writing the perfect donation request letter. Since there was such a positive response to this post, I felt like this topic was something that fundraisers wanted to learn more about. So instead of doing more research, I decided to reach out to famous fundraising consultants directly. I tried to contact the 40 consultants on this list and asked them this:
In your expert opinion, what is the most important component of a donation request letter?
11 of them responded with these amazing answers! (Posted in the order they were received)
Not to be coy, the most important component of the solicitation letter is the part that will be most meaningful to the individual receiving it.
What will that be?
As people’s needs and interests vary so will the critical element of the letter. If it’s someone who has never given, it’s essential that you tie the individual to the organization or cause through their known interests and how those interests intersect with your mission.
If at all possible, they will want to know how they are connected to you. Who and/or where did the recommendation to ask come from? People give to people. Having a network connection is very important to a potential supporter. If the recipient is already a supporter, then you must first express your gratitude—and as specifically as possible—before you make another request.
By far, the most frequently made mistake is to assume mission trumps all. It’s just not about you or your mission. Donors are the Drivers®. Donors drive philanthropy through the expression of their values and the fulfillment of their visions for a better world.
Learn More About Larry:
Hmmm. That’s a good question. I’d say the most important component of a donation request letter is the person on the other end reading it. Your donor (or prospective donor). What’s the motivating factor for him/her? How are they saving the world? How is your donor the hero?
Learn More About Pamela:
If I have to choose only one component I’d say this: Does your letter sound as if you are talking to ME? Or can I tell from the opening line that this is a letter written by a committee or group of people and it’s going to hundreds of people?
Reading your appeal letter out loud before sending it to the printer is the very best way to ensure you’ve written something that is conversational and readable. Too often, I see appeal letters that forget to use the words you and you’re. Count the number of times you’ve used THOSE words for an effective letter.
I would be remiss if I didn’t share what I tell my clients to do with their letters. There are usually three things a reader checks before reading the body of your letter:
1. Did you spell my name correctly? Please DO use my first name. No one calls me Ms. Jacobwith unless they don’t know me. Treat me like a friend, an insider. Use my first name.
2. Who signed the letter & was it a “real” signature? I’m most impressed when a real person signs the letter. An Executive Director I’ve worked within the past signs every single appeal letter AND jots down a short note on all of their 2500 letters. It takes him 2 weeks but their letter response rate is through the roof!
3. What’s the P.S. message? This is where you invite me to decide how many “Tommy’s” I’d like to support and that I can put my gift to work immediately by giving online. Remember to share the link to your online giving page!
The last thing on my own personal checklist for creating powerful, action-causing request letters is, of course: Did you inspire me to help a real person? Share the story of someone whose life is better because of your work.
No matter what type of organization you are there are real people touched by your work. Talk about just ONE of them. Allow me, the reader, to feel connected and inspired about your work as it relates to that person. Invite me to make a difference to support people just like the “star” of your letter.
Learn More About Lori:
While there are many important aspects of a donation request letter, I’ll quickly identify my top four:
1. The letter must tell a compelling story and convey a sense of urgency
2. It must be donor-focused (not organization centered)
3. It should have a compelling outside envelope (and not look like bulk mail)
4. It must ask for a specific amount (of money).
Learn More About Amy:
The most important part of the solicitation letter (letter requesting a gift to the donor)....
Write in a donor-centered manner. And that means:
Remember that the donor is the hero.
The letter isn't about how great your organization is. The letter is about how great donors are and how they make "things" happen.
And the next most important thing is to actually ask. Don't be subtle.
Learn More About Simone:
Probably the number one thing is the word "you" used in most of the sentences and all of the paragraphs. Also powerfully important: the "speedy readability" of the letter; I write my direct mail letters at the 6th-grade level, which is very fast prose. Not to be forgotten, though: How clear's your offer? What the letter is asking me to do should be immediately apparent. Also: treating me as an important member of a supporter family is great for boosting response.
Learn More About Tom:
The most important component of a donation request letter is the PS. If you can't get your entire appeal: the ask, the amount, and the deadline, into a 2-3 sentence postscript, you aren't ready to write a letter.
Right up there in importance is the response device: how can people make the gift? Is there an easy URL that you can send them to enter their credit card information? Are you including an envelope to make it ridiculously easy for them to donate?
Learn More About Marc:
The news hook. There's gotta be a reason you're writing other than "it's time to write and ask for money." Share what's new and exciting at your org. Link your newsworthy item to your solicitation and you've hit a grand slam. But home runs and triples help, too.
Learn More About Tony:
I think the most important component of a donation request is the hook or capturing the donor's attention to read further and be compelled to take action - make a donation.
Recently, I read Ben Parr's book on capturing attention and the triggers would all mostly work for fundraising letter openers.
Learn More About Beth:
There are four major components to a successful request letter.
The letter must express the need in a compelling and dramatic way.
It conveys the urgency— time will not wait.
Why this institution is uniquely positioned to meet the need.
And finally, you must ASK for the gift.
Learn More About Jerold:
The #1 thing to do is to use the word "you" more than you use the words "we" "us" "our organization name."
The TY letter needs to be about the donor and how wonderful she is, not about the organization.
Learn More About Gail:
Thank you to all the amazing experts who participated in our donation request letter roundup post. I know that their insights are hugely helpful to fundraisers like you.
Do you have any donation request letter tips and tricks? Tell us in the comments below:
Don’t write an ineffective fundraising letter again. Take the first step in making donor management simple.
How To Write The Perfect Donation Request Letter (Read Time: 3.5 mins)
Image 1: Flicker, Rosie Alyea