Writing a Donor Appeal Letter: Close Your Eyes, See the Donor
As you write a new donor appeal letter (or email), close your eyes and see the donor. See their smile, speak their name, blink at them and make it real.
This process is very important, because writing and speaking directly to the donor, in a conversational tone, simply produces greater financial returns — not to mention it’s more genuine.
You may be tempted to lapse into a story about a client, and that’s OK. But tell the story as if the donor were sitting before you over a cup of coffee. Tell them how their gift has made an impact on the client and that such a positive impact would have been impossible without their support.
Yes. Close your eyes, and see the donor... like you are writing an old-fashioned letter to a friend. Tell your donor why they should give you their support, why your request is urgent and what impact their gift will have. This is what we fundraisers call writing in the “donor’s voice.”
Your letter needs to emotionally move the donor in order for them to make a donation.
The Donor’s Voice
What the institutional voice sounds like:
“We’re great, we’ve been around for 40 years, no one does what we do and you should support us just because we exist.”
There’s a place for this voice, perhaps in your agency brochure, but an appeal letter is not well-served by an institutional voice; it’s seen as formal and remote. I suggest that you relegate the facts about your agency to a sidebar or a sentence about your mission, along with a link to your website.
Here are some tips for writing in the donor’s voice:
- Be sure to use a personal tone.
- Use the word “you” often.
- Make sure there’s plenty of white space.
- Short paragraphs are best, leave out complexity.
- Is the urgency clear?
- Has the donor been told why they should give to your organization instead of another?
- Have you tied the donor’s gift directly to results?
- Have you asked for a specific amount?
- Have you made sure the reply mechanism matches the ask in your letter?
- Is there an online giving option?
- Have you offered a monthly giving option? You do have a monthly giving club, right?
Think you’ve got it? Send me a draft of your upcoming appeal letter, written in the donor’s voice, for my personal review, and I’ll let you know what I think. If you’d like a sample appeal written in the donor’s voice, just send me an email.
Have you written an appeal in the donor’s voice? What was it like, and what difference did it make in your returns? Please let me know. Leave your comments below. I welcome your input and questions.
Laurence is author of "The Nonprofit Fundraising Solution," the first book on fundraising ever published by the American Management Association. He is chairman of LAPA Fundraising serving nonprofits throughout the U.S. and Europe.