Eight Cardinal Rules For Donation Requests
When writing a donation request letter, there are eight cardinal rules to follow. Failure to follow these rules will weaken your message, lower your response rate, and substantially reduce donation size.
Here’s how to get the most out of your fundraising letter:
Rule 1 – Use “I” and “you” (but mostly “you”).
In fact, “you” should be the word you use most frequently in your fundraising letters. Your appeal is a letter from one individual to another individual. You aren’t writing a press release, a position paper or a brochure.
Rudolf Flesch’s studies on readability supply the fundamental reason the words “you” and “I” are important: they provide “human interest.” Stories, anecdotes and common names (and capitalized words in general) have some of the same effect — but the most powerful way to engage the reader is by appealing directly to him or her: use the word “you.”
For example, in one fundraising letter, see how the author uses these powerful personal pronouns to establish intimacy:
You are a dream catcher.
I peeked in on some of the younger kids who were already asleep.
You protect our children from nightmares. You save them from poverty, illiteracy and despair.
I hope you’ll keep this card to bring good dreams to yourself and your family.
A singular salutation should be used even if the letter is addressed to a married couple. (Only one person at a time reads a letter!) Abolish the plural “you” from your vocabulary (as in “Dear Friends,” for example).
Try to avoid the royal “we,” too; it smacks of condescension and will detract from the personal character of your appeal.
Use a singular salutation
Use of the singular will require that you stick to a single letter signer. You’ll cause yourself two problems by using more than one singer:
(a) You won’t be able to enliven your letter with the personal details and emotional asides that might come naturally in a letter from one person to another.
(b) With multiple signers, you’ll sacrifice “suspension of disbelief,” to wit: your reader’s willingness to accept that your letter is actually a personal, one-to-one appeal.
Think about it. How am I to believe that two or three busy people who don’t live together or work in the same office have collaborated in writing a fundraising letter to me?
Which one of them typed the letter? (Or was it really someone else?) Did they both actually sign it? These are not questions you want your readers to be asking!
When to break Rule Number 1:
You may write a letter in the first-person plural if – but only if – there’s a very special reason to do so. For example, if the letter is to be signed by a married couple or your organization’s two venerable co-founders or a famous Republican and a famous Democrat.
Even in such exceptional cases, however, I advise you to craft the letter as though it were written by only one of the two signers, in much the same manner as one of those annual family letters that arrive by the bushel every December. Something like this:
Howard and I had a terrific time at the yak farm, but the same can’t be said for the yaks. (Yep, you guessed it: the kids were up to their old tricks!)
Rule 2 – Appeal on the basis of benefits, not needs.
Donors give money because they get something in return (if only good feelings). To tap their generosity, describe what they’ll receive in return for their money – such benefits as better government or attention to important issues or larger causes served. (Remember: most donors read your letters in the privacy of their own homes. They don’t have to admit their own mixed motives to anyone – not eve themselves.)
When to break Rule Number 2:
If you’re sending a genuine emergency appeal, you’ be a fool not to write about your campaign needs – and graphically so! But if it isn’t a real emergency – and you’re really in trouble if you habitually cry wolf – then write about benefits, not needs. In the long run, you’ll raise a lot more money that way.
Rule 3 – Ask for money, not for “support.”
Almost always, the purpose of a fundraising letter is to ask for financial help Be sure you do so – clearly, explicitly and repeatedly. The “Ask” (pardon my jargon) shouldn’t be an afterthought, tacked onto the end of a letter: it’s you reason for writing.
Repeat the “Ask” several times in the body of the letter as well as on the reply device. It may even be appropriate to lead your letter with the Ask.
The Ask should appear at least twice in the letter and twice again on the reply device. The request for funds should be clear and explicit.
When to break Rule Number 3:
Many direct mail packages are structured not as appeals for funds but as invitations to join a membership organization. Others feature surveys or other donor involvement devices. In these cases, de-emphasize the financial commitment, and highlight membership benefits – or stress the impact of completing the survey or mailing the postcards you’ve enclosed.
Click here to read the rest of the eight rules for fundraising letters.