How to write your most successful direct mail fundraising letter yet

You’ve been asked to put together a direct mail appeal to raise money for a much-needed project, top up your running costs pot or make the most of a generous time of year. Crafting your case for support and writing the perfect prose that pulls on the heartstrings isn’t easy – no matter how many times you’ve written a fundraising appeal letter. Trust me; I’ve been a fundraising copywriter for over a decade!

Why is it so difficult?  Because we always want to raise more so our charity can do more. That means every appeal letter needs to be that bit better than the last.

Don’t leave it to chance.

If you’re a smaller charity, you might only get one or two opportunities a year to run a direct mail fundraising appeal, so it’s even more critical that you leave nothing to chance.

Make sure you don’t leave donations on the table either. Create a personalised and emotive appeal letter that speaks to the heart. Give your reader the information they need to be sure their support will make a difference, and importantly, that they can trust you to make it happen.

How to raise more money with your next fundraising appeal letter

Draw them in instantly and get to the point quickly

Put the purpose of the letter high up on the page, demonstrate the need early and make the FIRST ask soon after. And make sure the first paragraph is a showstopper.

Show them why you need their help

Don’t just tell them, demonstrate the need. Real-life stories are great for bringing the problem to life. Show them what life might look like if you can’t help solve the problem. But beware of doom and gloom, no-one wants to be brought down by your direct mail appeal. So, strike a balance between showing them the pain they can help you solve and the positive difference you make – which leads me to the next point…

Always demonstrate the difference you make

Stories are perfect for showing impact too, and for helping your reader see how their support makes it possible. Be sure to use real-life stories, and if you can tell the story in the first person, even better. A story from a beneficiary, project worker or campaigner, for example, will engender trust and emotional engagement. Without those two ingredients, your appeal might fall at the first hurdle.

Make it personal

If you’re writing to past donors, personalise the ask based on previous gifts. Refer to their past support, mention other ways they’ve supported your charity and don’t forget to thank them. Let them know you value them and they’re not just a name in a database.

Ask, and ask again

Don’t be afraid to make your first ask early in the letter. And ask several times throughout. It’s a tried and tested formula for a better response rate. Importantly, be direct. Ask politely but don’t beat around the bush. Yes, it can feel uncomfortable, but your reader usually expects you to ask, so it won’t come as a surprise. 

Create a sense of urgency

Often your fundraising appeal letter will be followed by another and another, from other charities. If you give your reader an opportunity to put it down without acting, there’s every chance their gift will go to another cause. Be clear about why their donation is important and why they must give today.

Word cloud for direct mail fundraising letter article

Start at the end

Always use a PS to reinforce the key messages – the need, the ask, the urgency. It seems counterintuitive but often it’s where the reader starts on the page. So, it’s worthwhile spending what may seem like a disproportionate amount of time getting it just right.

Structure your letter for skim reading

Most of us skim read letters, so set out your copy to make the key points stand out. White space can be your friend, use bold and underlining but avoid italics that aren’t easy to read. Words are important, but pictures tell a story too so include real images, not stock photos.

Go loooong

Another counterintuitive tip – make your letter longer. While it’s true that four sides of A4 outperform shorter letters, be careful not to add copy for the sake of writing a longer appeal letter. It’s more important that the content is relevant, emotive, interesting and persuasive.

Keep it conversational

Think of your fundraising appeal letter like writing to a friend. Keep the tone informal and conversational. Importantly keep it consistent with your charity’s tone of voice.

Make the sign off strong

Carefully consider who signs off the letter. Your organisation’s leader is a good option because it helps personalise the letter and humanise the organisation, but a beneficiary is even better.

The voice of a beneficiary adds authenticity; it encourages empathy and creates a strong connection – vital ingredients for a successful fundraising appeal letter.

Don’t ignore the donation form

The copy on the donation form needs to be as compelling as the letter. Just because the reader has reached for the form doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. Follow the messaging through from the letter to reinforce their decision to give, make it easy to navigate and quick to complete. Give clear gift options, prompt for Gift Aid and always make sure the paper is suitable for biros! And make sure it’s GDPR-friendly too.

Give gift options

Often, we question whether our smallish donation will make any difference. As charity professionals, we know that every penny helps us deliver our services – or whatever it is your charity does to make a difference. Showing your reader examples of how different donation amounts can help is an effective way of assuring them their donation will count – it often encourages a higher gift too.

Make your own mind up about the outer

There’s a debate about the value of adding messaging to the envelope. It can create curiosity or, sometimes in the case of a cold mailing, put the recipient off opening it. Some advocate a single stamp and a handwriting font for the address, others believe in full-on design for the outer. My advice is to test both and see which works best for you.

There’s a lot to think about when you’re writing a fundraising appeal letter, however, be careful not to overcomplicate it. Emotive yet straightforward is always the best option.

Happy fundraising!

Want to leave it to a professional fundraising copywriter?

If you're thinking about working with a fundraising copywriter on your next direct mail fundraising appeal, I'm happy to have a chat about whether I'm the right copywriter for your charity.

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