We all get tons of emails and snail-mail letters with requests for donations.
How many do you actually bother to read? Probably not a lot, we’re guessing. They all start to sound the same, don’t they? Not yours! We’re going to share some hacks on how to write a donation letter that will actually make your donation request letter markedly different and subsequently better than the rest. But WAIT, THERE’S MORE! (Nod to old-time TV infomercials. And here’s another one: we’ll TRIPLE the offer!)
For reals. Not only will your letter be different and better, we’re going to show you how to turn one donation letter into three. These hacks may not be magic, but they ARE effective! Let us explain.
Before you start crafting your donation letter, start categorizing – your donors, that is. Compile a list of all of your potential donors and categorize them. It is a little extra effort, but keep these two things in mind: One, there are software and marketing tools to lend an assist and take some of the tedium out of this task. Two, your letter asking for donations will look less like a form letter and more like a personalized appeal. This will make a big difference in how it’s received and whether someone actually reads it or trashes it. Know your audience! So let’s begin the categorization process. Circle one in each row:
Individual or Corporation?
Ongoing fundraising campaign or direct donation drive?
Recurring, lapsed, or first-time donor?
Now that you have your potential donors slotted into groups, it’s much easier to make some tweaks that will make one donation request letter look like three. But first, let’s draft that letter.
1. How to Write a Donation Request Letter Greeting
One surefire way to ensure people WON’T keep reading is to start with a generic salutation. Personalized greetings make a huge difference, no matter what kind of donors you’re targeting. “Dear (Donor’s Name),” is an appropriate salutation for a more formal ask letter. Use honorifics (Doctor, Mr., Mrs., Ms.) for the most formal letters; first names to make it a bit more casual. If it’s an informal ask, and appropriate for your donor base, you can use “Hi (Donor Name)”. Whether you’re going the formal or informal route, the important thing is to personalize it. Again, software and marketing tools can simplify this task, so you don’t have to do every single one manually. Educate yourself on these important time-saving tools, if you haven’t already.
2. Mission Speak = Your Hook
Here’s why it’s a good idea to send slightly different versions to your different types of donors. Your mission is what’s going to tug at heartstrings and hook people into giving. A recurring donor is already familiar with your mission – they don’t need as many details about your mission than a brand-new donor might appreciate. A lapsed donor falls somewhere in the middle: You can assume they’re more familiar with your mission than someone who’s never donated before, but you’ll want to include some updates so they know their past donations haven’t been forgotten. Include a gentle plea to “come back!” This is the only paragraph in your donation letter with variations depending on type of donors: One for recurring donors, one for lapsed donors, and one for brand new ones. And really, a sentence or two is all you need for that important distinction.
3. Explain Your Need
Who are you serving? What do they need and why? What can you and your donors do to make sure they have what they need? What can you and your donors do together to make a quantifiable difference? Think teamwork and collaboration. Your underlying theme should be, “We couldn’t do this without you.” Because you couldn’t.
4. Detail Past Accomplishments
You can do fantastic things with donations. You can change lives. You can (and do) change the WORLD! So prove it. This is where you detail past accomplishments made possible by generous donations from your supporters. You don’t squander money. You make good use of it! Now’s the point in your donation request letter to prove it, by explaining exactly what you’ve been able to achieve for the folks you serve in the past. Emotional, uplifting, powerful person-focused storytelling will drive your mission home. When philanthropists know their money is going to a good place, they’re – you guessed it! – more likely to give, now AND next time.
5. Specific Request
Just as celebrating past accomplishments increases your chances for success with your donation letter, you’re also more likely to be successful if you detail what exactly you’re raising money for. What are you raising money for? Is it a specific project that you and your team haven’t been able to start yet, due to lack of funds? Is it for something ongoing – for instance, box lunches for school kids during the summer? Refilling your general fund that’s been depleted by covid or natural disaster? Donors love to see where their money is going and the real difference it’s making, so show them. We have found it’s very effective to break it down by the numbers. For instance, your $500 gift could help provide summer meal boxes for “X” number of students. Your $250 donation could fund an after-school program. Breaking it down by the numbers is effective at ALL levels of giving, from your six-figure donations, all the way down to a humble (but valuable!) $25 donation. You can also use this method to encourage ongoing giving, by detailing for your donors what a small monthly donation can provide.
6. Call to Action
Time to wrap things up with a powerful and urgent call to action. The action, of course, is donating money. How will your donors do this? Whether it’s an email campaign or a good ol’ fashioned snail mail donation letter, you’ll either provide a link to your donation page OR a physical address, where folks can send checks.
Now that we’ve covered all the categories of content you want to include in your donation request letter, here’s a sample letter broken down by paragraphs:
Dear [Donor Name],
[Explain your mission]
[Detail the need]
[Celebrate past accomplishments]
[Tell them what you’re raising money for]
Please give generously, NOW! [include a simple link or directions on where to direct your donation.]
[Name. Not name of org – name of someone at org]
How to Write a Donation Request Letter Conclusion
PLENTY of things have changed over the past year and a half with regard to fundraising. An effective donation request letter is not one of them. They’re still direct, powerful, and well worth your time. So start crafting your donation request letter and request a consultation if you could use some guidance! We hope that this guide has taught you how to write a donation request letter. Please let us know if you need any help with your fundraising needs!