Writing an appeal letter is one of those things that seems easy, right up until you have to put pen to paper. When you get right down to it, an appeal letter is making an extraordinary request, you're asking people to not only give up their hard-earned dollars for a cause, you're asking them to trust you to make the most of that money as well. It's a big ask.
When you write an appeal letter, you have to make your case quickly and convincingly. You only get one chance to make a first impression! If your appeal letter isn't up to the task, your organization will have a difficult time raising funds, so it's time to give it everything you've got!
But don't worry, we have some fool-proof tips for writing the perfect appeal letter.
Appeal letters should be targeted and specific. If you're sending out the same letters to everyone, from new potential donors who have never given to your cause in their entire lives, to your long-term donor veterans who have been with you for more than a decade, you're doing it wrong.
Draft up a couple of different versions of your appeal letters. One for people who may be unfamiliar with what you do, and one that speaks directly to your long-term supporters. These are two very different requests you're making, one is about establishing a relationship with a new person, and the other is about expanding your relationship with an old friend. You're going to need a different approach with each.
Make your case
Don't assume that people will already know about your organization and the cause you're championing. While it may be something you think about everyday, chances are others aren't nearly as tuned in. So be sure to include all the relevant details about your cause. Who are you? What is your cause? Why is it important? How can your organization help? If your appeal letter isn't answering these questions clearly and concisely, you need to go back to the drawing board.
Don't be afraid to brag a little
Nothing succeeds like success. One of the strongest arguments you can make when fund raising for a new cause is to simply point to your successes with previous causes. Never be afraid to blow your own horn a little. This will help new donors know that you can be trusted to use their contribution in a responsible and effective way and remind long time donors about the good work they've already helped bring to fruition.
Be direct and to the point
There is definitely a place for weighty reads and long form articles that get into the nitty-gritty of what your organization is about. Your appeal letter is not one of them. Obviously you want your letter to contain all the important information about your cause and organization, but this should be the Cliff Notes version. Only the most important and impactful statements should be included in your appeal letter.
If your cause is particularly complicated or requires a little extra background or nuance than most charitable causes, feel free to include links to more resources. If people want to know more about what you're about, that's great! But it should be an option, not a requirement for understanding your organization. Trim and polish your appeal letter to hit the most important points and as quickly as possible and save the essays for dedicated donors.
Paint a picture of what is possible
It's entirely possible that your organization deals with some heavy subject matter. The injustices and problems of the world can be very grim. It's okay if your appeal letter might has to deal with some dark topics, but be sure to include some light at the end of the tunnel.
Rather than getting mired down in what is happening, focus on what could be. State the reality as it is now, but paint a picture of a brighter world that could exist with your donor's help. Inspiration and optimism are better drives to action than sadness and pain. Find a way to be up front about the severity of your issue while also reminding your potential donors that they can make a meaningful, real difference.
Appeal letters can be tricky, but by concentrating on what's most important, talking to specific audiences, and illustrating what the future could look like with a bit of help, you can make your case and convert potential donors into ardent supporters.