Nearly every non-profit uses an annual appeal letter to raise money. Some send out just one annual appeal letter per year, while others send out multiple letters at different times of year.
No matter how many appeals you send out, it’s important that you understand how to write the best possible fundraising letter for your organization. In this article, I’m going to teach you the secrets to writing an amazing annual appeal letter for your non-profit.
What is an Annual Appeal Letter?
You may be asking yourself what an annual appeal letter is and how it differs from other types of fundraising letters. Simply put, an annual appeal letter is a solicitation letter that you send out asking general fund donations… meaning that the donations are not earmarked for any specific program or purpose. Instead, they go towards your “annual fund.”
There are lots of other types of fundraising letters you can send out. You may send appeals to raise money for a specific program or capital needs at your organization… you may send out letters asking for sponsors for your events or donors for your walk-a-thon. But your annual appeal letters are appeals that you send to raise money for your organization as a whole – for general support of your work.
As I said above, at some non-profits, it is a tradition to send one big annual appeal letter to the entire donor base, and not send general fundraising appeals through the mail at other times of year. Other organizations may send out an annual appeal letter two, three, or even twelve times per year. No matter how many your organization sends, the tips below will help you raise more money with your next mailing.
#1: Have a Theme for Your Letter
Just because you are raising money for general operations and programs doesn’t mean that your letter should be unfocused. On the contrary, your letter should have a theme or message that you pick out ahead of time.
Perhaps you decide to focus on the great outcomes you are getting from your programs, or on your big new project for the coming year, or on your vision for the growth of your organization. Or maybe you focus on the story of a particular person you helped, or even a staff member, volunteer, or donor. Whatever you decide, don’t sit down and just write a generic update letter to your donors. Have a theme and stick to it!
#2: Be Personal
Many fundraisers think that their letters need to sound corporate and overly professional in order to be successful. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you want to write a great annual appeal letter – one that raises lots of money – you need to write a letter that sounds personal. This means that your letter should sound like one person writing to another person that they know well. Keep your letters conversational in tone, avoid jargon, and write at about a 6th grade reading level.
#3: Focus on the Donor
People like to talk about – and hear about – themselves. It’s basic human nature. For that reason, your letter should focus as much as possible on your donor, while still telling the story you want to tell about your organization.
The best fundraising letters use the word “you” a lot. You can talk about “your support,” “the amazing work you allow us to do,” “the people you are helping by supporting our work,” “your incredible generosity,” and “your heart for the poor.” Focus on the donor, and the dollars will follow.
#4: Tell Stories in Your Annual Appeal Letter
One of the best ways to get your donors to respond to your annual appeal letter is to make sure that your letter elicits emotion… your donors have to feel something when they read what you send. A great way to elicit emotion is to tell stories in your fundraising letters.
The stories you include should be short. You don’t want to take up two pages telling one story in complete detail. Instead, include a few sentences about someone you have helped, or the impact getting involved has had on a donor or volunteer. Tell the story in an emotional tone and relate the story back to your overall work.
#5: Include a True Ask
The biggest mistake I see in annual appeal letters is not including a true ask. So many organizations say things like “Your support would make a huge difference!” or “Can we count on your help?” or “A generous gift, if you are able, would help us achieve our goals. These are not real asks.
Asks are questions (they can be answered yes or no). Asks are concrete (they ask for a particular thing, like a donation, rather than something general, like “help.”) Asks are specific (they ask for a specific amount of money or a specific range of gifts).
There’s a reason why you see so many fundraising letters that say something like, “Would you be able to make a gift of $200, $100, $50, or your most generous gift today?” It’s because concrete, specific questions work!
#6: Use a P.S.
Even if people don’t read all the way through your annual appeal letter, studies show that they will almost certainly read the P.S. Your donors want to make sure they aren’t missing anything, and the P.S. of a letter always draws the eye. So be sure you always include a P.S. in your fundraising letters!
My best advice for your P.S. is to make it a two-sentence summary of your entire appeal letter, followed by a one-sentence ask. Use the exact same ask you used in the main body of the letter. Don’t worry – studies show that asking twice (or even three times) in the same letter will actually increase your response rate!
#7: Don’t Be Afraid to Bold and Underline
Another thing people will look at – even if they aren’t planning to read your entire annual appeal letter – are the sentences you bold and underline. Yet so many non-profits are wary of using bolded phrases and underlined sentences in their appeals. Don’t be afraid to use these… they work.
Of course, you don’t want to overdo it… if every other sentence in your annual appeal letter is bolded, underlined, or italicized, it will look garish and it defeats the purpose of using those strategies to highlight the parts of your letter that you most want people to read.
By the way, your envelope is an important part of your fundraising letter, too. If you want some tips for making sure your donors open your letters and read your appeals, check out our article How to Get Your Nonprofit Appeal Opened: The Envelope Please!