How to Write a Fundraising Letter Part 1

One of the most crucial aspects of nonprofit management is ensuring the lights stay on. This means securing enough funds to maintain operations. There are many ways that organizations can accomplish this, including applying for and receiving grants. Still, one of the number one components will always be fundraising.

In this first part of the series, I will name each element to writing a fundraising letter, and give you a bit of background into why each of these elements is important. In part two, I will provide a more in-depth examination of each element, and give you some tips on how best to execute them. 

What is a Fundraising Letter?

A fundraising letter is a written request for support of a fundraiser. This support can come in many different forms, not just financial support.

Here are some of the different kinds of fundraising letters you may come across:

Donation request letter – These are specifically fundraising letters that nonprofits send out to any prospects or individual donors.
Individual donation letter: This is a different kind of donation request letter. This is specifically from an individual to their community. This can include any and all community organizations, churches or synagogues, or even family and friends.
Sponsorship request letter: This is when a nonprofit organization is trying to fundraise for a specific project or program. Some examples of this are included in this article.
Volunteer request letter: This is a letter that is not directly about raising funds. If your nonprofit organization is looking to recruit more volunteers for an event, they can send out this kind of letter.
Peer-to-peer request letter: This is the kind of letter many people might be more familiar with. This is the kind of letter that organizations or individuals may use to raise funds through an event, walkathon, or something similar. This may include a request that you sponsor someone participating in a walkathon to raise funds for cancer research or another worthy cause.
Matching gift request letter: This is a letter that nonprofits send out to donors to remind them to submit matching gift requests. Matching gifts are a type of corporate giving program. This generally means that at certain corporations when an employee submits a donation they can send a letter to the HR department requesting that the company makes a matching donation.

Every nonprofit is different, but each operates on a specific type of funding model: which lays out how exactly a nonprofit can fund its operation. 

Funding Models:

A funding model is a way in which a nonprofit organization plans to continue its operation. Some ways that nonprofit organizations can finance their work include: 

  1. Grants
  2. Fundraising 
  3. Direct Donations 
  4. Paid Events 
  5. Membership Programs

Realistically, there are several different models that contain varying amounts of these aspects of funding. Contrary to some popular myths, nonprofits are allowed to bring in revenue. But as opposed to businesses that exist to ensure profit for shareholders, nonprofits exist to serve the public. This means that the way that revenue will come in and the way it is distributed will be very different.

The elements of writing a great fundraising letter include: 

Great storytelling:

Storytelling is at the heart of absolutely everything you’re going to do in terms of communicating your message. From building connections to your reader to developing more of a “why” for your project and the work your organization does, lead with the story. This method can help to build trust, and ensure that your reader feels connected to what you are looking to get from them.

Clear definition of the problem you are solving:

It’s critical, that what you do is work to alleviate a problem. This is of course a critical element of any grant application but also applies here. There are two main options here, and both can work. You can either focus on the problems your organization is solving, or exactly what this project will alleviate.

A straightforward description of the goal involved:  

What is the goal of what this fundraising letter hopes to accomplish? This can vary depending on the type of letter. But you want to be as clear as possible. Will funds be distributed to help build sanitary kits for women that your organization serves? Are you trying to build a new playground in an underserved community? Are you just trying to raise general operational funds? Let them know what, you’re doing, and how they as a donor or participants can be a part of it.

Ensuring that “your ask” is simple and to the point:

What are you trying to get the reader of your letter to do? Are you looking for direct funds? For them to join your fundraiser? Do you want them to donate time to your mission, organization, or project?

Be clear in what you are actually asking for, and don’t take too much time in asking for it. And make sure you have a small number of micro-copy in that direction. More on that in Part 2.

A clear, respectful tone throughout the letter:  

No matter where or why you’re addressing someone it’s incredibly important to be respectful all throughout your writing. Be grateful that the reader is even taking time to focus on the letter, email, or correspondence you’ve sent out.

Utilize that sense of gratitude throughout this letter and you’ll be golden. Remember that people have busy lives, and that kindness can actually get you pretty far. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t focus on the urgency of whatever you’re trying to talk about, just be respectful of the other person’s time as well as be clear and respectful in your actual tone of voice throughout.

Each of these elements can make for an increased chance of success with the letter you send to potential donors. Check back next week so we can explore together how exactly you can optimize each of these points to help your organization increase your chances of conversion with your critical fundraising letters!

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