Elements Of A Good Annual Appeal Letter

You want to create an annual appeal letter that captures your donor’s attention right away and convinces them to donate.  Sounds simple, but it’s not.  Here are some ways to ensure a successful letter.

First impressions count
First, you need to get your donor to open your letter.  Give some thought to the outside envelope. Include a teaser, if possible.  

You want to be both personal and professional.  Hand addressing the envelopes may not be feasible, but make sure your mailing labels look clean and are affixed with care.  Use stamps if you can.

Create an inviting piece of mail.

Start with a story
Start your letter with a compelling story.  Focus on a person or family and not on your organization.  Use emotion and don’t bore your donor with a lot of statistics. 

Use a photo
Include an engaging photo in your letter or on your pledge form.  Photos can tell a story in an instant.

Here is more information on creating stories and photos.


You gotta ask
Ask for a donation at the beginning of the next paragraph (after the story).

It’s all about the donor
Show how are you are making a difference and how much you appreciate your donor’s role in that.  Make the donor feel good about supporting your organization.

Be positive
Emphasize solutions and not problems.  Highlight a few accomplishments, but also show you plan to continue your good work with your donor’s help.  

Make it personal
Send separate letters to people who have donated before and thank them for supporting you.  You can also tailor letters to other groups such as people on your mailing list who haven’t donated yet, event attendees, volunteers, and friends of board members. 

Your letter should have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend.

Make it easy to give 
Include a return envelope with amounts to check off or an envelope and a pledge form.  Show what each amount will fund.  For example, $50 will provide X amount of meals at the food pantry.  In addition, include a link to your website that will take someone to your user-friendly donation page.  Even if donors receive a letter, they will often donate online.

Offer a monthly giving option
Monthly gifts can generate more revenue.  Encourage your donors to give $10 or $20 a month.   If they do, you are getting gifts over $100 each!

Make it easy to read
Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists.  Bold or use color for key words, but keep it tasteful.  Make it easy to read and scan.  Use a simple font that’s at least 12 point.

It’s fine to go over a page, especially if you are breaking up the text with a photo and short paragraphs.  But don’t make it four pages.  You can also add a quote or short testimonial. These can be powerful and it helps break up the narrative.

Use a conversational style and leave out jargon such as capacity building, direct services, and evidence-based.  Refer to your reader as you and write as if you are communicating with that one donor. Keep it personal.

Too many editors spoil the appeal
Your entire staff shouldn’t need to be involved in creating the letter.  Your best writer should craft it and then turn it over to your best editor.  Whoever signs the letter (your Executive Director?) can take a quick look at it, but don’t go overboard.  Not only does involving more people take extra time, it usually weakens the content.

All’s well that ends well
Repeat your ask at the end of the letter.  Don’t forget to say please and thank you.

Add a PS
People often gravitate to the PS as they scan the letter.  Here you could emphasize monthly giving or use another creative way to ask for support. 

Get your pens out
Include a short handwritten note.  Make it relevant to each donor, such as thanking them for a previous donation or letting them know it was nice to see them at a recent event.

Hand sign the letters in blue ink.

Are you ready?
Send out an annual appeal letter that will get noticed and will bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Here are some examples of sample fundraising letters, along with one you shouldn’t use.


More information on creating your annual appeal,

Image by r8r via Flickr
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