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November 2018

Direct mail for fundraising: how to write a great letter #3

In this last post, we look at the skills of using words to fill out the plan of your fundraising letter.

We’ll start where we left off at the end of the second post: looking at narratives.


How to use stories

Storytelling is trendy. But a lot of talk about storytelling isn’t really about narrative; it’s about vivid writing. I think stories deserve more detailed attention.

Stories are special because they follow a particular structure. That structure is often called a narrative arc.

The narrative arc has a single function: to keep the reader reading. All stories – all stories – follow a similar basic structure.

  1. Once upon a time: set up a situation.
  2. Complication or problem that makes the situation more tense or gripping
  3. Climax or crisis: the breaking point where something has to change
  4. Resolution: if it’s a comedy, everyone lives happily ever after. If it’s a tragedy, everyone dies.

Let’s set up an example.

Suppose you work for a women’s shelter. You might start with a particular client. Let’s call her Judith. Once upon a time, she arrived at the shelter after suffering years of abuse from her partner.

(You could put an Ask statement at this point.)

Zoom out to show how significant a problem domestic abuse is in your area, your city, the country – show your reader a bigger picture.

(Include another, differently worded Ask.)

Now set up the crisis. Talk about the lack of shelters for people like Judith. Talk about the danger such women face with no shelter to support them. Raise alarm and compassion in your reader’s mind.

Remind the reader of Judith. Tell the reader about the problems she would face if she had to leave the shelter. Tell the reader that you can guarantee only a place only for a certain number of nights. Keep the information specific; don’t skimp on the details.

(Add another Ask.)

Present your plan to resolve the crisis. You plan to open a new shelter, which will help dozens more women just like Judith.

And: ask.

A variation on this method is to write your letter in the voice of someone who has been helped by your organisation, or who works there. Maybe Judith could ‘write’ the letter. Better still, interview Judith and use her testimony.

Testimony increases credibility, but it also brings a few problems. Alan Sharpe, of, makes several important points about first-person storytelling.

First, the advantages. A story told in the first-person is invariably more dramatic and interesting than when the same story is related second-hand by a staff member. It’s also more personal. And client testimony makes your claims more credible – these days, we might call this the TripAdvisor effect.

Now, the disadvantages. First-person testimony from a client lacks institutional authority. (Remember Aristotle’s credibility quotient in my previous post…) A letter written by or on behalf of your CEO will have wider authority than a story told by a person who’s benefited from your work. And a first-person storyteller can’t speak directly to your reader – so you lose out on the opportunity to exploit segmentation and personalisation.

Alan concludes that first-person narratives are likely to be the strongest letters you write, emotionally. But not all your letters can or should be written in this style.


Integrate your narrative with your key points

As well as telling stories, you will want to remind your reader of key campaigning points. Create an outline of these points as another part of your plan.

Go back to my first two blog posts. Look at the three modes of appeal: credibility, logic, feelings. Each one can give you key campaigning points. Look back at Robert Cialdini’s six patterns of influence. They, too, can give you key campaigning points.

For example, you might write down:

We have been providing safe shelters for women in the city since 1985. (Credibility, authority.)

We want to open a new shelter every three years. You helped us three years ago; with your help now, we’ll meet our goal. (Consistency.)

If you respond by January 15, your gift will be matched pound for pound by our leading trustee. (Absence or scarcity.)

Having found these key points, you can weave them into your narrative. Pick them out in bold so that the reader’s eye falls on them. Don’t put too many on each page: they need to stand out from the text around them.

And put whole sentences into bold, not individual words or phrases.


Work on your first line

Otherwise known in the business as ‘the lead’.  How are you going to catch your reader’s attention? You have other ways to do that, of course: a teaser on the envelope; a heading in the letter itself.

You might consider making a unique first impression by asking a bold rhetorical question. (Appealing to your reader’s core values, perhaps.)

Or perhaps you can give an example of recent positive outcomes. (Thus enhancing your credibility.)

If your letter is going to a current or lapsed donor, this is the perfect opportunity to share the impact that the donor’s previous gifts had for your organization. (And it uses Cialdini’s consistency pattern of influence.)

Everyone wants to know when they’ve made a difference.

Writing the lead might help you also write the close of the letter. If the close relates to the lead, it will close the circle, and give the reader a pleasing sense of completion.  Just as the lead should probably connect directly to the envelope teaser, so the close should relate to the lead.

If your lead asked a question, don’t answer it till you get to the close. (That’s suspense at work, a key storytelling technique.) If you opened by challenging the reader, come back to that challenge and show how their action will respond meaningfully to it.  



It’s another point of entry. (Remember points of entry in our second blog post?) Another point where the reader’s eye might fall – even, perhaps, before they read the rest of the letter. Don’t waste this opportunity. Use it to build on your ask and maybe to add urgency.

P.S. We’ll match your donation pound for pound – but only if we receive it by 20 March. Give now and your gift will be doubled – automatically!


Choose the right words

The right words are the words that speak most directly to your reader. Notice that I say ‘speak’: the reader should ‘hear’ your voice as they read your letter. Aim to balance a spoken style with correct grammar and punctuation.

Great letters feel conversational and look professional. It’s ok to use idioms. Or elisions (can’t, won’t…) Or sentence fragments. Or punctuation that indicates how to read the letter. But your writing shouldn’t be sloppy. And typos are completely unacceptable.

Craft your sentences so that they take your reader on a journey. Keep the structure simple. For each sentence, focus on the very start and the very end – and put strong words in each position.

Here are four ways to make your fundraising letter truly zing.

Use personal words

Always write the letter in the voice of an individual. It might be you; it might be someone else. Talk about I and me and we and us.

More importantly, use the word you. Talk about ‘your support in the past’, ‘your concern for homeless people’, ‘your help with our project’, ‘the difference you have made and can make’.

You are helping us provide lifelong care for our feline residents – and your dedication makes all the difference.

Use names. Talk about people doing things. Which reminds me:

Use verbs

Avoid all those long words ending in –ion, -ment and –ity. Charities use these words far too often, perhaps to try to sound more authoritative. How’s this, for example?

Our multi-disciplinary team-based approach to forensic interviewing…

Most of the time, these words are simple turn-offs. Find the action in the sentence – sorry, find what’s happening in the sentence! And use a verb to express it. In this case, perhaps:

We interview clients in teams, made up of experts from different disciplines…

Use power words

Power words are words that do more than express a dictionary meaning. They have a poetic power that flies directly past the reader’s intellect and into their imagination.

Power words include:

  • single-syllable words
  • human words
  • action words
  • feeling words
  • concrete words
  • onomatopoeic words (chop, fizz, crash, scrape)
  • words that stimulate the senses

Here’s a good example of power words at work.

It can start with nothing more than a twitching in your arm. A numbness in your leg.

You might think it’s nothing. That it will pass.

But over time, slowly, inexorably, your muscles weaken. You lose your ability to move…to talk… to swallow…or even to breathe….

Here’s another example, adapted from Jeff Brooks. Imagine you work for a charity that combats illegal dog-fighting. You might write:

The dog sat on its haunches, bleeding from its injured mouth.

Now add more detail.

The dog collapsed onto its haunches, rocking back and forth, blood clotting the sand. Its jaw was torn and hanging loose, exposing the teeth; saliva and blood soaked into its matted and ripped fur.

Give your reader that imaginative experience, and they’ll be hooked. Once hooked, they are more likely to consider donating.


Be positive

I mean this purely in technical linguistic terms. I’m not talking about the power of positive thinking; I mean, quite simply, that you should aim to express your ideas using positive verbs and not negative ones.

Don’t say: “if we don’t achieve our target, more donkeys will die.”

Say: “If we achieve our target, 300 more donkeys will live a long, happy life.”

Look over your draft letter and do these simple checks.

  • How does the letter move from start to finish?

How does it take your reader on a journey towards giving or otherwise taking action?

  • Check the last word of each sentence.

Do your sentences land on strong words?

  • Check your verbs.

Are they varied, specific and interesting?

  • Check your adverbs.

Do you actually need absolutely every one? Really?

  • Check your adjectives.

Which adjectives arouse the senses or emotions? Which describe benefits to the donor?


Format the letter

Finally, think about how the letter looks. It should look easy to read, even before the reader starts to read. Busyness is bad news.

It should look like a letter. Not a brochure or a leaflet. Cut down on photos and other fancy design features. Focus on the text, and making it look good. And, no: picking random bits of text in bold doesn’t help either.

People don’t read letters that look messy, boring or tedious to read.  Think about it — when you pick up your mail, do you read text-heavy updates from organizations you support, written in 12 point type with no pictures or headlines?  Of course not — these types of letters look like a chore to read. 

If you want donors to read your letter, it should look good: interesting, exciting, and enticing. Too interesting, in fact, to put down. 

Use a headline

A compelling headline in your letter can grab your reader's attention and hook them into reading on. Think of the headline as an ad for your letter.

Use a compelling, bolded first line

Headlines aren't right for every letter. If you want the letter to look and read as more personal, you might not use a headline. Focus instead on the lead: the first line. Make it compelling. Make it a one-sentence paragraph.

I need your help.

Brenda Smith is dying. Her kids need your help.

The eye needs to rest, so leave plenty of white space around your copy.

  • Indent each paragraph.
  • Avoid paragraphs that are more than seven lines long. But do vary their length.
  • Use bullets to clarify lists – but only lists.
  • Use subheads. If the letter is long.
  • Try centering the subheads.
  • Use italics to signal how the reader might read the text aloud. Italics can help your letter feel more spoken.
  • Never underline. Anything. Ever.

I run courses for not-for-profits and other organisations exploring the skills discussed in these posts. We can tailor any course to your needs. Here are a couple of sample outlines.

Email and Letter Writing focuses on correspondence - our written ambassadors. Make the best impression and get the results you want.

Download Alan_Barker_CO_Email_and_Letter_Writing

Copywriting uncovers the secrets of producing copy that sells. Capture your prospect's attention and convert them into customers.

Download Alan_Barker_CO_Copywriting

This series of posts draws, with thanks, on material from Mal Warwick, Jeff Brooks, Alan Sharpe, Andy Maslen, and others.  Here are links to the material I’ve used in my research.



Direct mail for fundraising: how to write a great letter #2


In my first post in this series, I covered the initial stages of preparing a fundraising letter. In this post, we’ll look at planning the letter’s structure.


Long or short?

Let’s begin with a surprising fact about fundraising letters.

Long letters work better than short ones.

This might seem counter-intuitive. We’re in the age of the text and the tweet, yes? When the attention span of the average human is now notoriously shorter than that of the average goldfish. Surely people are simply not sitting down and reading multi-page letters?

Well, in fact, donors do respond more often to long letters than to short ones.

AndyAccording to Andy Maslen, a commercial copywriter whose work I greatly respect, long copy outscores short copy in many cases. And Jeff Brooks, creative director at TrueSense Marketing, suggests that the same holds true in the not-for-profit sector. Long letters are more likely to get a response than short ones; and they can often generate higher average donations.

Apparently, the principle also holds for email. Brooks suggests that a longer e-mail outperforms a shorter one by about 60%.

Why should this be?

Let’s begin by reiterating a point I made in my previous post.

Your reader is most interested in themselves. I can think of three reasons why donors may prefer long fundraising letters. And they’re all to do with the donor.

First, many donors simply like to read their mail. For them, the postal delivery can be a high point in the day. (As, I’m sure, it can be for you.) A longer letter means more pleasurable reading.

Secondly, your reader may already be a donor. (We noted in the previous post that direct mailing nearly always goes to established donors.) That means they’re interested in you and your cause. Imagine: they may actually want to hear from you. In fact, short letters are an impolite response to that interest. They might come across as downright insulting. A long letter, in contrast, creates a stronger connection with the donor.

The broad marketing principle here (thanks, Andy Maslen) is that long copy works with readers who already want to know more about what you’re marketing. Readers with little or no interest are unlikely to read any letter from you, long or short.

Thirdly, a letter gives the donor complete control over the transaction. It’s less invasive, less irritating and potentially less distressing than being called on the phone. (Or being accosted by a chugger on the street.) And that sense of having control may lead your reader to give you more attention, for longer.

(Incidentally, it’s probably a bad idea to include photos or other fancy design features in your letter. This is a letter; not a brochure. Photos will make the letter look more informational and – crucially – less urgent.)

Now think about the letter itself. A long letter also gives you the opportunity to hit more triggers in your reader. (Jeff Brooks calls this the Multiple-Triggers Theory. Thanks, Jeff.)

How do we exploit this feature? How do we make a longer letter more interesting and effective? Indeed, how do we make it longer?


Using patterns of influence

In the first post, we talked about identifying your Ask: what it is, precisely, that you are going to ask your donor to give. We also looked at three broad modes of appeal that you can use to support your Ask: credibility, logic and feelings.


At thiInfluences stage, we can develop our thinking about influence in more detailed ways.

Robert Cialdini and Steve Martin have studied the ways we can be influenced without being aware of it. Cialdini calls this the psychology of compliance. What makes us say ‘yes’?

Cialdini bases his ideas on experiments (in labs and in the field), and on real-life examples of systematic compliance. Cialdini suggests that most ‘weapons of influence’ can be grouped under six headings:

  • reciprocity
  • authority
  • social proof
  • consistency,
  • absence (Cialdini uses the word ‘scarcity’)
  • liking

(Think ‘RASCAL’.)

All six patterns of influence operate unconsciously. That’s why we talk about them in terms of ‘influence’ rather than persuasion: they affect us ‘under the radar’. They make us comply with requests unthinkingly. 

Does this sound unprincipled and unethical? I don’t think so. You want to encourage someone to donate to a famine appeal? Show them a picture of a starving child. The image hits us immediately, unconsciously, and irrationally. And we give. Providing your cause is a good one, any means of influencing – any means that doesn’t involve outright lying – is worth considering.

Reciprocity: the old give and take (and take)

We feel a strong urge to repay a favour.  Do something for the donor and they may do something for you.  Better still, tell the donor that you’ve already done something for them, and they might feel even more inclined to respond.

Authority: directed deference

We are extraordinarily compliant to the requests of people we see as authority figures.  What can you do to increase your authority with your donor? (Back to credibility.)

Social proof: Truths Are Us

We are strongly influenced to feel and do what we see others feeling and doing. (Think of canned laughter on the television.)  Showing how other donors have acted may influence the donor you’re writing to – especially if you can show that the other donors are similar to the reader in some way.

Consistency: I Am What I Say

We all want our behaviour and views to be consistent with what we have presented in the past.  This is more than making a show of consistency; we actually want to be consistent with our past self-image.  It’s in our own self-interest to be seen by others to be reliable and consistent. (Think of promising your child to take them to Disneyland. And then not taking them. How would you feel?)

Making a public statement of commitment to action – either spoken or in writing (even if only we read it) – increases the chances that we will do it.  Get your donor to do something that’s consistent with a later ask, and they may feel influenced to act. Remind them how they donated last year, for example.

Absence: Scarcity Breeds Desire

The scarcer a resource, the more value we attach to it.  We are also more motivated by the prospect of losing something than by the hope of gaining something. Making the benefits of a donation time-limited, for instance, might inject an effective note of urgency. Or emphasize the dangers of not donating – or donating too late.

Liking: I Like You, You’re Like Me

This is two patterns. We are influenced by people we like, and by people we consider to be like us. Can you make yourself more likeable in your reader’s eyes? (You might write in the voice of another person, for example: a beneficiary, perhaps, of the campaign you’re promoting.) Or can you emphasize how you and your ask are similar to some aspect of your reader’s life that you already know about: their love of animals, their experience in a caring profession…


Creating a structure

This is not a great piece of literature we’re writing. It’s not an essay looking for a mark from a teacher. Your fundraising letter has to do only one thing.

It has to work.

So think about how the reader encounters your letter and how they will react to it.

Repetition: creating points of entry

One of the key elements of effective fundraising letters – and of long copy more generally – is repetition.

What’s the first thing the reader sees as they look at the envelope? As they pull the letter out of the envelope? As they unfold it?

Some people will read everything you’ve written. Others will skim. The trick is to write for both groups.

As they unfold your letter, your reader will start to read wherever their eyes land. The eyes bounce around, leaping forward and backward, skipping entire sections, reading other parts more than once. Your letter should therefore contain multiple points of entry and multiple calls to action. And the more boldly you present those points of entry and CTAs, the more likely the reader’s eyes will land on them.

Don't worry about annoying your long-term donors. Most active donors apparently remember little about the organisations they support; there’s no harm in repeating important information. Use your letter to re-educate your donor.

Jeff Brooks suggests outlining your letter something like this:

  • Introduction: Why I'm writing to you.
  • Ask.
  • Why your gift is so important today.
  • Ask.
  • How much impact your gift will have.
  • Ask.
  • Story that demonstrates the need.
  • Ask.
  • Remind the donor of his values and connection with the cause.
  • Ask.
  • Another story.
  • Ask.
  • Help the donor visualize what will happen when she gives.
  • Ask.
  • Conclusion: Thank the donor for caring. Ask again.

As we’ve said, one way to hold all that repetition together is in a narrative sequence – otherwise known as a story. That’s where we’ll start the third and final blog post.

I run courses for not-for-profit organisations on letter writing, copywriting and a range of other topics. Here are two of my standard courses, which can be adapted to your needs.

Email and Letter Writing focuses on correspondence - our written ambassadors. Make the best impression and get the results you want.

Download Alan_Barker_CO_Email_and_Letter_Writing

Copywriting uncovers the secrets of producing copy that sells. Capture your prospect's attention and convert them into customers.

Download Alan_Barker_CO_Copywriting

This series of posts draws, with thanks, on material from Mal Warwick, Jeff Brooks, Alan Sharpe, Andy Maslen, and others.  Here are links to the material I’ve used in my research.

Direct mail for fundraising: how to write a great letter #1


This is the first of three posts. If you work for a charity, a not-for-profit or any organisation that relies on donors for funds, these posts will be essential reading.


Direct mail? Really?

It’s time to rethink direct mail. Yes, GDPR has made a big difference. The regulatory landscape has changed and legal departments are being ultra-cautious. But, as Suzanne Lewis writes in a useful post, people still like direct mail: according to Royal Mail’s MarketReach, 87% of the public trust a letter, compared to 48% for email.

Fundraising letters build relationships – and sustain them. If you rely on donors or members, grant them the privilege of sending a letter. What’s more, letters – and not emails – remain, by far, the biggest single means of recruiting new donors. Surveys reveal that most donors make their first gift after reading a letter that’s arrived on their door mat. And letters are also the best way to retain support. You can only say so much face-to-face; and you may not meet many of your most loyal supporters.  

Direct mail is cost-effective. Sure, writing effective letters is time-consuming and demands an almost fanatical attention to detail. But the rewards come over time. One donor in a hundred may respond to your repeated, thoughtful correspondence with a hefty bequest. That’s worth working for.

Think of direct mail as a strategy: a process, not an event. It’s a virtuous circle. The more you write, the more loyal your supporters will become. The more loyal they are, the more likely it is that they’ll read your letters.

To start, let’s summarise three key features of an effective fundraising letter.

  1. The letter is written by you: a named individual. You sign the letter. And you are a real person, with experience, expertise and strongly held convictions. Write about them.
  2. You’re writing to one person – the addressee – who has an interest in your cause and wants to know more about it, as well as wanting to contribute to it. Address those interests.
  3. The letter should talk about the needs your organisation addresses: practical and emotional, social and concrete.

As you begin, you need to answer two key questions.

  • Who’s your reader?
  • What’s the Ask?

In this post, we’ll address those two questions. In the next post, we’ll plan the letter in detail. And in the third post, we’ll draft and edit.


Thinking about your reader

What’s your reader most interested in?


Everything you say in your letter must relate to the reader: their values, beliefs, feelings, and behaviour. Use whatever information you have to identify those values and behaviours.

(GDPR is of course critically important; you shouldn’t be keeping or using information about your supporters that they haven’t agreed to share with you.)

The key to dealing with your list is to segment it. Segmenting allows you to decide who to include in a particular mailing, and how to treat them.

It’s worth spending time identifying the members of different segments. Personalise! If you keep accurate records, you can exploit all the advantages of direct mail:

  • You can vary the copy of your letters – rather than writing dull, standardised copy.
  • You can generate more data about your supporters.
  • You can measure the results of your campaigns more accurately.

All of which means that your fundraising will improve, steadily, over time.

The main criteria for profiling your readers are probably:

  • recency (how recently they last contacted you, or you contacted them);
  • frequency (how frequently ditto);
  • previous donation amounts; or
  • how the donor originally came to you.

Many fundraising campaigns are based on a membership scheme, or on a system of regular giving (Direct Debits, for example). With this segment, fundraising’s major aim is to achieve renewals. You might contact them twice a year, or even more often. If you want to sustain the interest of these loyal donors, you can include:

  • news updates;
  • new campaigns;
  • yearly achievements; or
  • external events affecting your organisation.


The Ask

The second key question is: what’s the Ask? Donors won’t give unless they’re asked.

There are four steps in writing a great Ask.

  1. Identify the need.
  2. Ask for help.
  3. Justify the Ask emotionally.
  4. Show how the donation will make a difference.

And you should be able to state your Ask in no more than 20 words. (It’s what the Greek rhetoricians called a ‘colon’: the length of a sentence that you could utter in one breath.)


Identify the need [nine words]

Use the first sentence to identify the Ask. And don't use the words donate or support. Instead, name the person or group that’s in need of assistance. Paint as powerful a picture as you can in nine words.

Our foodbank stops families from going hungry.

Without a transplant, Jenny will die.

Too many organisations include nebulous Asks in their letters. Maybe they feel apologetic, or embarrassed, to ask for money! Hence, perhaps, that bland, vague word ‘support’.  It sounds as if you don’t know the value of a donation. The clearer and more specific your Ask – and the more assertively you ask it – the more likely your donors will be to respond.

What, in fact, are you asking for? Money, probably. How much? Why?

Will you donate £25 to change a child’s life forever?

Maybe the money is actually a commitment to a project. For instance, a local food bank asked for a pledge to feed children during the school holidays.

Join us this summer with a special three-month commitment that will help to give these kids three square meals a day during the school holidays. You can send a gift today and pledge to do the same in July and August. Or you could make a single gift that stretches across the entire summer. Better still, sign up for monthly giving and make a difference all year long!

The Ask is the core reason for writing the letter. Clarify it early. You might develop your Ask into a more sophisticated marketing concept. (We might even make it look even more sophisticated and call it a Marketing Concept.) For example:

As Chief Executive of Home from Home, I’ve often written to you about the challenges faced by homeless people in our city.

You’re one of our most generous and loyal supporters. That’s why I’m telling you now about a wonderful opportunity for you to help us again. We urgently need £40,000 to refit our three shelters, so that more homeless families can find a warm, secure place to sleep.

Because we need to finish the job before the winter sets in, three members of our Board of Trustees have volunteered to match your gift, pound for pound, if we receive it before 15 September – up to a total of £10,000.


Ask For Their Help [five words]

Can you help us out?

Why these words? Because it’s a direct question that demands a direct response.

The word help is also powerful. We’re programmed from infancy to give help when asked; asking for help is a strong emotional trigger.

Which leads us to the next step.


Justify the Ask emotionally [one word]

And that one word is:


The word ‘because’ satisfies the reader’s (often unconscious) need for a reason to accept your case.


If we’re looking for ways to justify our ask, we can take inspiration from Aristotle.

Yes, really.

In his book Rhetoric, Aristotle suggests that we persuade each other in three ways.




We tend to believe people and organisations that we trust. If your organisation is well respected, people are more likely to listen to you. Respect begins with having a high profile. If your reader has never heard of you, you will have to build that reputation from the bottom up.

Credibility is based on three key elements.

Shared values: if you can demonstrate that you share the reader’s values, they will grant you more authority. The best fundraising letters appeal to their readers’ deepest desires and values: things like faith, their worldview and beliefs about humanity, and so on. (Remember: your reader is most interested in themselves.)

Common sense: otherwise known as practical wisdom. If you can show that you get things done, and that you’re not extremists, your reader will respect you more.

Commitment: demonstrate that you do more, go further, or sacrifice more to achieve your goals.

Find examples that illustrate all three of these elements and add them to your ideas for your letter.


Argue a case, rationally and reasonably. But remember that all arguments start with assumptions; and the arguments that will persuade your reader must be based on assumptions that they hold. Argue from your reader’s values and beliefs.


Everyone knows that giving decisions, like buying decisions, are based hugely on emotion. And we all know that charities and other not-for-profits do everything they can to tug on the heartstrings, in order to pull the reader’s purse-strings.

The danger when you’re writing is that you might use too much emotional language. The mantra here comes from drama and novel-writing:

Show, don’t tell.

Evoke the feelings in your reader using stories, pictures, examples of people doing things. Show the concrete difference your organization is making in the world. Use facts and figures by all means; but make the statistics meaningful by presenting them in concrete terms.

Numbers, by themselves, usually mean very little.

Credibility, logic and emotion are broad modes of appeal. In a specific letter, the trick is to relate those principles to the specific ask we’re making.


Show how the donation will make a difference [six words]

Here’s a marketing mantra that will serve you well.

Benefits, not needs. 

This is a variation on the commercial marketing mantra, ‘benefits, not features’. If you’re selling a washing machine, don’t talk about everything it does; tell the customer how their life will be improved by owning it. If you’re fundraising, don’t talk about what you need money for – your projects, your annual strategy, your budget deficits – tell your donor how they will benefit from giving money.

And the benefit will be seeing that their donation is used directly to do something concrete.

So, if you’re talking about donations to help feed people, say '£10 will provide x meals for a family of four.’

Benefits to the donor could be direct or indirect. A direct benefit might be a pair of tickets to an event; an indirect benefit would be the warm glow of knowing that we are saving a life or rescuing an animal.

For as little as £30, you could pay to save a child’s sight right now. That’s a lifetime of glorious sunsets, entirely because of your gift.

By now, you should have lots of ideas to feed into your letter. We’re ready to start planning it!

On to the next blog post.

I run courses for not-for-profit organisations on letter writing, copywriting and a range of other topics. Here are two of my standard courses, which can be adapted to your needs.

Email and Letter Writing focuses on correspondence - our written ambassadors. Make the best impression and get the results you want.

Download Alan_Barker_CO_Email_and_Letter_Writing

Copywriting uncovers the secrets of producing copy that sells. Capture your prospect's attention and convert them into customers.

Download Alan_Barker_CO_Copywriting

This series of posts draws with thanks on material from Suzanne Lewis, Mal Warwick, Jeff Brooks, Alan Sharpe, Andy Maslen, and others.  Here are links to the material I’ve used in my research.