write your appeal letter

how to write your appeal letter

Did you read Part 1 of this series? It talks about why direct mail is so important, and gives you some tips on what you need to do.

Now we’re getting into Part 2, Which is ALL ABOUT writing the different parts of your direct mail letter.

What Should Your First Paragraph Look like?

To be effective and eye-catching, your first paragraph needs to have the word “YOU.” This is the word most people listen to. You, and their name. If you can repeat their name several times in the letter, it will grab their attention even more. What major disaster will happen if your nonprofit is NOT there? You could write about that. You could also write about a story of hope from your organization, creating a good feeling about what you are currently accomplishing.


What is going to be the first paragraph of your letter?
Write it now.


Body of your letter

See if you can tailor your letter to what you know about this donor. If you don’t know why most of your donors give, group your letters in batches of 150, and send letters out tailored to the seven kinds of donors. Send out a letter which makes the business case for giving. Send out a letter which makes a feel-good case for giving. Send a letter which talks about family and the importance of carrying on family traditions of giving. Take note of who responds to which letter, and include this information in your database.


To remind you, here are the seven kinds of donors

Business-minded-Someone who thinks it makes good business sense.

Religious-Traditions in certain faiths of being philanthropic.

Traditionalist –Someone who gives because it’s a family tradition-look at the children and grandchildren in family foundations.

Feel-Goods– People who give because it feels good.

Communitarians -People who give because it’s the right thing to do.

Give-Backs– Children of clients/alumni, or returning clients, alumni.

Socialites– This could be anyone who wants an environment where its FUN to be philanthropic. They may be intimidated by the “auction and gala” so meet them in the club!

From The Seven Faces of Philanthropy by Russ Prince & Karen File.


Different kinds of donors give for different reasons. Some people like graphs, some people like stories, some people like quotes, some people respond better to pictures of your cause.


So ideally you put in all of these elements, but if you don’t have room, keep track of who responds to which method. If you have one letter with just stories, or one with more pictures, track what people gave to. Then you can batch your letters after you have enough information, and send a specialized letter to Give Backs, or only to Business-minded donors, etc.


Here are some ideas for what to put in the body of your letter:


  • A good letter is like a good story. It has CONFLICT. You’ve got to create the conflict right there, in the first part of the body of the letter. Make people want to keep turning the page to read more. Is this story a tearjerker? Is it a funny story? What’s the conflict? Could you set up the conflict with a picture? With a graph? With a quote? Get creative. And look at other appeals for examples. For example, here are two appeal letters:


sofii appeal letter sample

here’s a guide dog appeal from sofii

What do you notice about these letters? The short paragraphs? The use of the word YOU? The big color pictures of the people that they help?


  • You can mention a recent event the community has heard about, related to your nonprofit mission, even if it doesn’t take place in your community. And of course you can mention an event your nonprofit is responding to.


  • Your letter can have headshots and quotes from people who care about your nonprofit, leaders in the community, and if applicable, people you have helped.


  • Your letter should have statistics about numbers of people served, number of trees planted, number of volunteer hours logged, and number of in-kind donations, to show you’re not only helping the community, you’re doing it with every available resource, not just monetary.


  • But on the subject of money, you can highlight where and how well you spend your program money, with an optional pie chart to show where the donation will go.


  • You can offer a story of a person who was helped either directly or indirectly by your nonprofit.


  • Your letter can mention what the person has given before, thank them for giving again, and then say why you need them to double their usual gift today.


  • Your letter can offer donors the choice of giving on a monthly basis, or yearly basis, or invite them to join a major donor giving society, entry into which can be anything from $500 a year on up.


How are you going to make your cause compelling in the body of your letter?
Keep your sentences short, and offer specific calls to action time and time again. Can they write to their elected official about this issue? Can they make a phonecall? Can they donate? Can they come to your event? Make sure they know about all of the opportunities to get involved.


When it comes to the ending, make it urgent. Make it real. Give your reader three or four ways to connect, whether it’s on your website, via Twitter, on the phone, or at an event. Always include a PS, these get read more than any other part of the letter.


Most of all, take pride in your writing ability, and have fun with it. If you have fun writing this letter, chances are someone is going to have fun reading it.



There are all kinds of good fundraising letters, if you’d like to look at more examples, I highly suggest checking out Sofii.org. Once you’ve got your letter written, first read it out loud to yourself. Notice where you stumble over words, and change the sentences you stumbled over. You stumbled for a reason, and if you did, so will the reader. Second, get at least two people to look it over, to check for grammar, punctuation, and readability. Third, give it to your boss to get their assessment. Try not to go back and forth more than three times with your boss.

How are you going to end your letter?

Write it down now.

Next week we’ll talk about how to actually SEND your letter.

This is just the tip of the iceberg on what to write about. If you want to learn more about how to write a stunning direct mail appeal, check out my e-course!