Nowadays, fewer and fewer of us sit down at a desk, write a letter, tuck it into an envelope, and send it off to a friend or loved one via the U.S. Postal Service. In fact, in a 2021 CBS News poll, 37 percent of Americans reported that it’d been 5 years or more since they’d last written and sent a personal letter on paper. Another 15 percent of adults surveyed said they’d have never written a personal letter.
Even e-mail usage for personal and informal purposes is on the decline. Business e-mail remains a staple of everyday life, but Scientific American reported in 2015 that e-mail usage overall had dropped 10 percent since 2010, and personal e-mail usage dropped another 10 percent in 2017.
Whether it’s paper or e-mail, the decline of letter writing is most likely attributable to various forms of online messaging—from simple SMS texting to various messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
However, there is still at least one place for the good ole paper-and-stamp letter, and that’s the fundraising letter. According to Freddie Tubbs of Philanthropy News Digest, “While many organizations prefer a digital approach, an actual letter delivered by the U.S. Postal Service continues to have value as a tool in the nonprofit fundraiser’s tool kit.”
So, what are the ingredients that go into a solid fundraising letter? Let’s take a look.
First, Tubbs advises letter-writers to tell a story. “Your fundraising letter should start with a story,” Tubbs suggests, “one that fully engages your current and potential supporters in your issue or the problem your organization is working to address.” With that in mind, Tubbs adds, don’t beleaguer the story. Make this opening section of your letter only a few sentences long.
Next, Tubbs says it’s time to define the problem. Keep this section likewise short and sweet, but be straightforward—outline the larger problem along with any underlying problems, and how you plan to tackle them.
As you might guess, now it’s time to present your fundraising goal. This is also a good place to insert an explanation of what your organization has already done to address the problem(s), and Tubbs says it’s a great idea to tell your donor how far you’ve already progressed toward your goal because “People are far more likely to give if they know a campaign already has some traction.”
Now comes the ask. You’ve shared the story, your goals, and your progress so far. Tubbs says, “Don’t worry about coming off as pushy. … Now is not the time for subtlety; now is the time to trumpet your call to action.” This makes a lot of sense—anyone who has read this far into the letter is at least somewhat likely to respond favorably.
And even though you’re being bold, be humble. Most nonprofit workers understand the concept of organizational humility. Don’t even attempt to play the hero in this narrative—you are the catalyst for making good things happen. Allow your potential donors to feel needed and important.
From a blog post from nonprofit-fundraising company Double the Donation comes a breakdown of the types of fundraising letters. According to the post, there are six, each with a slightly different style and purpose. You can find examples of these here: https://doublethedonation.com/fundraising-letters/
1. Donation Request Letter
According to Double the Donation, this is the basic letter type nonprofit organizations send out to individual donors and prospects. These may be delivered by themselves or as part of a packet with pamphlets or other information.
2. Church (Organization) Fundraising Letter
As the name suggests, the church fundraising letter specializes in reaching out to members of a particular church or another group as a single group. It’s a fundraising appeal that ties the fundraising effort to the church as an organization and members of the group or congregation.
3. Individual Fundraising Letter
The individual fundraising letter is not an appeal to individuals—it’s a fundraising ask from an individual, someone who has fundraising needs of their own, or is running a charitable project as an individual, and this style of letter has its own structure and personality.
4. Matching-gift Fundraising Letters
Many corporations and organizations offer matching funds that their employees or members may be eligible for. Unfortunately, some individual donors are not aware of these matching funds or they just neglect to take advantage of the offer. The matching gift letter is a gentle prompt to inform their matching organization that they’ve donated.
5. Sponsorship Letters
These are usually directed at corporations that might want to sponsor an organization or event. Therefore, the approach and ask in a sponsorship letter is a bit different than a letter asking for a more straightforward donation request—details such as levels of sponsorship and in-kind benefits must be included.
6. Donor Thank-You Letters
A thank-you letter may seem like something more related to administrative tasks or housekeeping, and it goes without saying that all donors should receive some kind of thanks. All thank-you letters should obviously be sincere and succinct, but a thank-you letter may also serve as a prelude to future requests. For example, the thank-you letter can double as a chance to inform donors of future efforts. The thank-you letter also generates goodwill and opens the door to maintain companies and individuals as donors.