Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.
Updated 11.25.2023 by Kathy
Widenhouse, award-winning nonprofit content writer, website
publisher, and author of 9 books.
Oh, how I wish I had this fundraising letter template when I first started writing for nonprofits and ministries!
I’d just completed AWAI’s Six-Figure Copywriting Course (which was awesome) and I’d learned basic copywriting skills. But I struggled to modify those tools to the nonprofit and ministry marketplace. I knew that I needed to use all those yummy persuasive copywriting techniques, but I also knew that donors didn’t want a hard sell. The latest trend towards conversational copywriting means a less forceful Ask. Furthermore, appeal letters for small to mid-size organizations tend to be much shorter (1-2 pages) than long-form sales letters and direct mail – particularly because readers’ attention spans are decreasing.
I learned to adapt. But it took some time and a whole lot of mistakes.
If you’re a copywriter, ministry writer, or content writer (or want to be one), then writing appeal letters can be part of your bread and butter. Even if you’re a general freelancer, then there’s a good chance you’ve been asked (or will be asked) to write a fundraising letter, whether for a client or for an organization that you support.
Naturally, you want to write a good one.
But with the explosion of online tools that allow nonprofits to solicit gifts through social media, you may wonder whether you should even bother writing a print fundraising letter.
The answer is yes. A recent Direct Marketing Association study reported a 5-9% response rate from direct mail compared with a 1% email, social media, and paid search response rate combined.
Plus, you can do more with a print letter than simply send it through the mail.
Like any writing formula, a fundraising letter template provides a simple outline to follow as you write. Within the nonprofit realm, there are additional reasons why using a template makes sense when asking for gifts.
A letter template saves you time and effort. You won’t need to start from scratch each time you need to send out a fundraising letter. Instead, you’ll have a ready-made outline for your letter that you can tailor to specific campaigns or appeals. A well-structured template can help ensure that your message is clear and concise. This is crucial for conveying your organization's mission and the specific goals for a particular campaign.
Further, a fundraising letter template is not just for direct mail. True, a print appeal letter is a different format than an email appeal. But they share similar traits. By completing the template worksheet, you complete the legwork for an entire campaign.
A well-designed template hits all the high notes that are required for an effective appeal, which sets you apart as a pro. If you’re a nonprofit leader, a template gives you assurance that you’re presenting your cause in a proven format. If you’re a freelancer, a template helps reflect your credibility as you work with clients. You demonstrate that you know how to help nonprofits communicate with donors.
You may feel all cringey at the idea of asking people for money. And like me, you may struggle with transitioning your content writing and copywriting skills to appeal letters. If so, a fundraising letter template worksheet helps you make that crossover with ease.
Use a template to write your fundraising letters for different appeal letter projects throughout the year. Then compare the results with other fundraising letter formats. A template shows you what works and what you need to change in your appeals.
If you’re new to writing fundraising letters – or if you’re a leader whose staff is new to the appeal writing process – a template gives you a format to follow. It shows you the key elements you need to include in your fundraising letter. Use the template enough times and writing a fundraising letter becomes second-nature to you. In other words, a fundraising letter template becomes a DIY teaching tool.
My fundraising letter template is just one example of a successful appeal format – one that works.
One beauty of this template is that it is flexible.
When you download the template, you’ll see that it is formatted so you can scribble ideas for the 7 key elements of your fundraising letter. In that sense, it’s more like a worksheet than a simple formula.
Personalize your appeal with the recipient’s first name. Spell it correctly. You want your reader to feel like you know her. If you or your client cannot personalize your campaign with mail merge, then identify your reader as specifically as possible. Example: “Dear friend of hurting Pennsylvania families …”
Open your appeal with a vivid, emotional story about your work that illustrates the need or impact of a gift. Connect your reader to the story by speaking directly to her with “You” language (“You can make a big difference for these hurting children with your gift”) and highlight how they can help (“Your gift will allow this program to continue”).
Offer a call to action right at the top of the letter – one that prompts the reader to give. The reason for this is quite simple: some readers are predisposed to giving a gift and will want to get on with the process without reading the rest of your letter.
Make it easy for her to do so. Tell her a specific dollar amount. In print appeals, use a bold font for the call to action. In email appeals, link the entire call to action to your giving page. Example: “Your gift of $200 will guarantee that more children like Shauna have a safe place to go after school for tutoring, healthy snacks, and character education for the entire spring semester. Please join us today to create a better future.”
This is the section of your letter where you connect the dots. Don’t assume that your reader understands intuitively why you need the gift and how you will use the gift. You need to explain why.
Repeat your call to action, but now do so with urgency. Your reader has stuck with you this far, so make another appeal, but use different language than with your first call to action.
Thank the reader for her support. Inspire them with a positive, hopeful outlook for the future, reminding her about the beneficiaries you mentioned in your opening story: “Because of you and partners like you, Shauna and their friends have a hope for a successful school year.” Include your signature.
Siegfried Vögele (1931-2014), the “Albert Einstein of Direct Mail,” called the P.S. the first paragraph of your letter, not the last – because over 90 percent of readers read the P.S. before any other element.
This is THE place to offer a clear Ask. Reinforce the sense of urgency to encourage donors to act right away. Example: “You are our most trusted partner in the fight for a better education. We are so close to our goal. Your gift today will help put us over the top before December 31. Give here. Thank you!”
I’m a big fan of simplifying the writing process. Why reinvent the wheel if other writers have found a tip or a method that works? That’s why I like writing formulas, blueprints, and templates.
And that’s one big reason I created this fundraising letter template. True, the template doesn’t do the writing for you. However, it offers you a proven structure that has worked for me as I come alongside nonprofits to help them raise millions of dollars.
Whether you’re a busy fundraising veteran or a new writer, you can get started writing your own powerful fundraising appeals with this template. Evidence that it works? You’ll see in the response. Let me know how the template worksheet helps you!
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