Creating Effective Fundraising Letters

It's the time of year that many organizations are thinking about year-end giving strategies. The charitable feeling that surrounds the holidays, combined with the end of year tax benefits creates a big opportunity for fundraisers. Many non-profits bring in the majority of their annual income during the last few months of the year.

Does your team rely on year-end mail requests to accomplish this? If so, here a few things you'll want to think about as you create your perfect piece.

  1. Start off with an engaging opening line. Your first paragraph will determine how much the recipient reads. Avoid phrases like "On behalf of..." or "I'm writing to tell you". Create a visual story and use an emotional hook. For example, a hunger charity might start with "Last night Jimmy went to bed hungry again".
  2. Ditch the lofty tone. Remember, these funders are friends of the organization, and you should speak to them as such. Think about how you would speak if you were writing a letter to an old friend.
  3. Be donor-focused! Donors are more likely to respond if they feel like they're making a real difference. Instead of saying "This year the Smith Clinic helped 250 new patients", say "This year, YOUR support allowed us to increase our services". Make sure the readers knows that your successes are because of them. Say words like "you" and "your" as much as possible.
  4. Don't bury the "ask" in your letter. Be up front with donors on what you need, what you want to accomplish, and how much it will take to get you there.
  5. Send a follow up communication, such as an email with similar messaging, to remind your donor about your ask.
  6. Lastly, send a prompt and warm thank you letter to your donor. Studies have shown that donors typically remember the acknowledgment more than the ask letter. A friendly and warm note to let them know that their donation makes a difference is what will keep them coming back.

What other suggestions do you have for creating an effective fundraising letter? Let us know in the comments section! And if you have specific questions, or need help with your piece, USFR is here to help. Drop us a note at and let us know what your biggest challenges are and how we can help remove those barriers.

Good luck!

- by Nathan Measom

Nathan Measom is a Salt Lake City based fundraiser with 14 years of non-profit experience. He currently works in Development for Best Friends Animal Society, and serves on the board of USFR.

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