What makes a good appeal letter?

For the last month I’ve been writing you posts and showing you examples and giving you free webinars all about what makes a good appeal letter.


One of the best appeals in the world, ever. By Indra Sinha

One of the best appeals in the world, ever. By Indra Sinha


You’ve got 10 tips from the full Smile Train direct mail pack.

You’ve got How to get your appeal letter to eat its vegetables and take its vitamins.

You’ve got 6 guidelines from St. Joseph’s Indian School.

You’ve got How to cut the gangrene out of your appeal letter.

Not to mention A Tale of Two Cities in Your Appeal Letter

AND What makes a good appeal letter (video interview with me from Bloomerang)

And there’s my post on Guidestar.org, 11 Tips to tell a better story in your appeal letter

So by NOW you know that I am a big appeal letter nerd. It’s all appeal letters all the time here, and I love it!

Appeal letters are so fun! They are good to send six times a year but if you only send one this year, send it at the end of the year.

If you’ve read the posts above, then you already know that you’ve got to write a short story and lead with the most dramatic thing.

But last week I realized something unusual. My grid that I was using for marketing would also work for appeal letters.

It should have been obvious to me before, but I never thought of it this way until I had to sit down and explain it to them in person. It was fun!

Here’s the grid I’m talking about:
Problem |   Goal   |   Agenda  |   Pain  |   Solution
|              |                 |            |           

I ask people when they’re marketing to think about these five things in terms of their customer. But you can think of these in your appeal letter as well.


Here’s how. It’s actually so ridiculously simple.

What’s the problem? It’s the problem you’re helping solve, in the most dramatic form possible.

For example, one of the men I met the other night wants to start a nonprofit where people can barter services. Let’s say one person wants a massage, and another person needs a place to sleep for the night. They can barter that service with each other. I asked him, “Which problem is more pressing, and dramatic? A massage, or the need for a place to sleep?” and he said, “uh….” and I said, right, a place to sleep for the night. So make it dramatic.

So you can use this for the first line or the headline of your letter. “When was the last time you had to worry about a place to sleep?”


“Tim didn’t know where he was going to sleep that night…”

What’s the pain? The deep pain that makes you cry out in agony and say NO NO THIS MUST STOP!

So, how can America be one of the richest nations in the world with one of the biggest homeless populations in the world?

Did you know the vast majority of people who are homeless are women and children?

How can little children be dying on the streets of America because they don’t have a place to sleep?

How can we stop this terrible problem?

What’s the goal? To stop this problem as soon as possible.

How can we stop this problem? One night in a halfway house doesn’t solve the problem. What does? How can this problem be stopped at the root? What is your nonprofit doing to help stop the problem?

And the solution?

It’s your nonprofit, being there, over and over to help people. But wouldn’t it be terrible, if your nonprofit wasn’t there? What is threatening your ability to be there?

What’s the agenda? To live in a world where this does not happen, or maybe it happens just a little bit less than it did before. Your nonprofit isn’t going to solve this problem all over the world. But it could solve it in one corner of the world, maybe just at the end of your street.

If you can write to the pain, the goals, the agenda, and the problems of the people or animals or places that you serve, you will be able to tap into your donor’s motivation to give, and their shared values that your nonprofit helps live in the world.

Does this give you ideas for your nonprofit appeal letter?

How can you write your appeal letter to focus on the pain, the agenda, the goal, the problem, the solution?

Want 43+ more tips on how to write successful appeal letters? Just go here!