Developing Appeal Letters

Posted on 12/21/2022

Annual fund appeals come in many different shapes and sizes. The variety of images and text you select for your brochures, pamphlets, and postcards offer an endless combination of ways to convey your message and ask for support. Sometimes, however, it’s best to simply write a good old-fashioned letter.

When you sit down to write an appeal letter, the first thing you should do is determine the audience. Are you asking someone to make a gift for the first time or are you addressing a group of consistent donors? Are you hoping to win back a supporter who has lapsed or are you trying to upgrade someone to a leadership level? Are you writing to alumni, parents, faculty or staff? The more you know about your audience, the better you can address them in a personal and meaningful way.

Perfection is the enemy of progress, so don’t get hung up trying to make your letter flawless the first time through. Just get something written down—a first draft is a big step. You can focus on making it “good” later. Here are a few ideas to consider as you begin to develop your next appeal letter:

  1. Grab the readers’ attention at the very beginning with a story, question, or quote.
  2. Share an example of gift impact. Mention a specific student, faculty member, or someone else who has benefited from donor support.
  3. Use the word “you” as much as possible.
  4. Don’t bury the ask. Suggest an amount and describe what it will achieve. Explain the consequences of inaction.
  5. Highlight the things that are most important (e.g., the ask, goals, deadlines) by using italics, bold type, and underlining.
  6. Have it come from (i.e., be signed by) someone the audience will relate to.
  7. Use a postscript! It’s one of the first things (and sometimes the only thing) people read.

In a world where fundraisers have a seemingly endless number of tools in their toolkit, it can be easy to overlook the importance of those classic approaches that have worked for years. Don’t forget about the value of a well-written appeal letter. And don’t expect that your first draft will be perfect. Review and revise it several times. Get a colleague (or several colleagues) to read it and make suggestions. Remember that nothing is ever well-written, only well re-written.

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