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6 Elements in a Successful Appeal Letter Writing Format

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.

This appeal letter writing format may appear too simple to be effective. It’s got just six elements.

Don’t be fooled.  The formula may be uncomplicated, but it’s overwhelmingly successful in pulling gifts for all kinds of organizations. There are at least 3 reasons why it works.

6 elements of a successful appeal letter with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter

Versatility.  Part of this format’s appeal is its flexibility – you can use it to create as short or long of a letter as you need. Follow this copywriting formula to create a one-page, 5-paragraph letter followed by a quick P.S. Or your appeal can be several pages long and still magnetically pull in readers and gifts, simply by using the same five sections and the P.S. developed with much more detail. Plus, you can adapt the appeal letter writing format to your particular campaign, such as an emergency appeal, an appeal for a particular project, a capital campaign, a year-end appeal, or an annual fund appeal. 

Simplicity. There are only 6 pieces to this puzzle and they’re easy to remember. Three are structural: you start out a letter with a lead, you close a letter with a conclusion, and you write a P.S. after the signature. The other three elements elements are conceptual. They center on the letter’s main idea and like the structural elements, they too appear in logical order.

Singularity. To use this formula successfully, you need just one idea – also known as your letter’s concept or theme.  That singular approach allows you to construct all 6 elements and write the letter with clarity.  Come up with a strong concept (idea or theme), and the letter becomes easy to write following the formula.

Appeal Letter Writing Format: 6 Elements

Here are more details explaining the 6 elements that make this appeal letter writing format an overwhelming success. Use them in your next campaign. And let us know in the Comments section below how they work for you!

Element #1: The Lead – “We Have a Problem”

  • A sentence or short paragraph
  • Grab the reader with the letter’s concept: a problem, dilemma, or challenge
  • Use action words, a thought-provoking idea, an anecdote, or startling fact

Element #2: The Concept and the Sender – “The Main Idea and Me”

  • Expand the concept by explaining the sender’s ties to it
  • Expand the concept by explaining the specific need in gripping, personal language
  • Make the connection between the sender and the reader, using a soft ask with language like “with your help” or “together”

Element #3: The Concept and Reader – “The Main Idea and You”

  • Expands the concept to include the reader, by using bridge language such as an analogy, question, or other transition
  • Draw a parallel between the signer and reader
  • Show how the reader’s need and the program’s need match
  • Explain how the problem, dilemma, or challenge is resolved with the reader’s gift

Element #4: The Ask – “What You Can Do”

  • Directly connect the concept and solution to the gift
  • Make a hard ask, including specific dollar amounts in a gift array
  • Communicate urgency
  • Explain specifically the multiple ways the reader can make a gift

Element #5: The Conclusion – “Let Me Hear From You”

  • Reminds the reader that the solution to the problem is a gift
  • Explains the result: what will change the consequence of the gift
  • Repeats a soft ask
  • Includes a thank you

Element #6: The P.S. – “Don’t Forget”

The P.S. is one of the most-read letter elements – in fact, many readers open a letter and go directly to the P.S. Your P.S. can include all or some of these components:

  • Stress an important part of the concept
  • Make another ask
  • Communicate urgency
  • Offer a final thank you

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