Write a Better Fundraising Letter

Posted by on Jun 14, 2016 in Communication, Donor Cultivation, Featured, Staff Development, Uncategorized | 8 comments

Write a Better Fundraising Letter

Last week, I received an Annual Report from a former client. The report was 12 pages, beautifully laid out, a little dense (not enough white space), but great pictures throughout – a nice communication piece for members and donors. On the inside of the front page was a letter, and it broke so many rules, I thought I’d doctor it up as a case study and share a “before” and “after” with you.

The letter was co-signed by the Executive Director and the Board Chair. Neither gave me permission to republish it, so I removed the name of the land trust and any reference to geography.

 

PART 1:
This was the original letter as I received it. The Reading Level is 12.1 – way too high for an Annual Report.

 

Dear Friends,

We are thrilled to report to you that Conservancy reached two notable milestones in 2015; we began our 100th conservation project, and our total conserved habitat topped 1,000 acres. Considering that the median parcel size in all our projects is barely one acre, that second achievement is phenomenal.

Although these successes were carried out by our staff, volunteers, and partners working together, none could have been accomplished without your generous support.

In this Report to the Community, we want to highlight for you a few of our over 20 projects from 2015 and thank you – our amazing donors – for helping Conservancy do what we do best – protect our region’s urban natural resources.

Supporting Conservancy may be the most cost-effective, impactful investments you can make. Your investment in urban land conservation reaps a benefit many times larger for your community. The financial return alone is over 20-fold. Most of our impact helps people enjoy improved health, lower medical costs, reduced infrastructure costs, and higher property values. Less tangible benefits are equally important, providing people and wildlife with natural areas for their well-being today and for generations to come.

In 2016, as Conservancy kicks off its 20th year, we remain as dedicated as ever to making nature your neighbor. Thank you for taking action to strengthen your commitment to that vision. We look forward to continuing to earn your support as we work together toward a greener place to live.

 

PART 2
The first thing I did was highlight in PINK all the pronouns “we,” “us,” and “our.” Look how many there were! In each case, I asked myself whether the pronoun includes the reader. In every case but one, it did not. In every case but one, the pronoun refers generally to the organization or to the staff and board most involved with the organization. Using these pronouns in this way implies that the readers (members and donors) are NOT part of the organization. The exception is in the third paragraph where the “we” could refer to the co-authors of the letter (remember there were two). This is somewhat tricky, but referring to “our” projects later in the same sentence makes me want to rewrite it.

Next, I highlighted (here in GREEN) all the numbers and asked whether the reader would have any context for understanding the point of the number. (Actually, there weren’t that many – which is good!) Last, I added the blue notes to help you see what I was thinking.

 

Dear Friends,

We [this “We” does not include the reader] are thrilled to report to you [the phrase “to you” is unneeded and serves to emphasize that the “we” does not include the reader] that Conservancy reached two notable milestones in 2015; we began our 100th conservation project [that’s nice, but few people will care], and our total conserved habitat topped 1,000 acres [Is that a lot? There’s no context here. For some land trusts, 1,000 acres is an average project]. Considering that the median [no one understands what this word means] parcel size [jargon!] in all our projects is barely one acre, that second achievement is phenomenal. [Actually “phenomenal” is probably an overstatement, and it comes across that way. All it really means is that 50 of the 100 projects were an acre or smaller. In fact, the “average” is ten acres – hardly “phenomenal.”]

Although these successes were carried out by our [here’s an example where simply removing the word “our” would not change the meaning of the sentence at all – an easy fix!] staff, volunteers, and partners working together, none could have been accomplished without your generous support.

In this Report to the Community [this title should be underlined], we want to highlight for you [“for you” is unneeded here] a few of our over [use “more than” here – grammar!] 20 projects from 2015 and thank you – our amazing donors [this makes it sounds like the donors are pets] – for helping Conservancy do what we do best – protect our region’s urban natural resources.

Supporting Conservancy may be the most cost-effective, impactful [there are few less impactful words in the English language than the word “impactful”] investment you can make. Your investment in urban land conservation reaps a benefit many times larger for your community. The financial return alone is over [again, use “more than”!] 20-fold. Most of our impact [this kills me – the impact donors will care most about is THEIR impact, or at least the impact of their gifts – what harm would it do to give them the credit?] helps people enjoy improved health, lower medical costs, reduced infrastructure costs, and higher property values. Less tangible benefits are equally important, providing people and wildlife with natural areas for their well-being today and for generations to come. [all of these benefits are great, but “show me” through story-telling, instead of “telling me”]

In 2016, as Conservancy kicks off its 20th year, we remain as dedicated as ever to making nature your neighbor. Thank you for taking action to strengthen your commitment to that vision. We look forward to continuing to earn your support as we work together toward a greener place to live. [I recommend always inviting people to contact the writer personally at the end of letters. Few people ever will, but the gesture is always noted and appreciated, and the few who do will be worth listening to and getting to know!]

 

PART 3
In the rewrite, I added a story (just three sentences – stories need not be long!). I led with it and referred back to it throughout. I also kept the number of places protected (100 total and 20 last year) because they had context together, but I de-emphasized their importance. The resulting Reading Level is 7.3.

 

Dear Friends,

Last Friday, an eight-year-old told me she had found a turtle in her front yard. I said “Great! You know what the turtle told me? She said she just found a little girl in her front yard!”

Sometimes, I think that would be a better statement of Conservancy’s mission: “Protecting places for turtles and little girls to meet each other.”

There are now more than 100 such places in our region that have been protected by Conservancy. Most are very small – turtle-sized – but big enough to keep nature a part of our lives.

As a member, you continue to be an important part of that work. It takes staff, volunteers, partners, and technicians to do the physical work. But it also takes a community of people who care. People who value nature and outdoor space. People like you who understand that nature in our neighborhoods is important.

These are investments in quality of life. And the returns are impressive: improved health, lower medical costs, higher property values, and even more “happiness.” Equally important, these projects provide habitat for generations of turtles – and little girls – to come.

Thank you for taking action to strengthen that vision.

Conservancy completed more than 20 projects in 2015. This Report to the Community, highlights a few of them. Conservancy staff, board, and volunteers look forward to continuing to work with you toward making this community a greener place to live.

If you have any questions about Conservancy or any of these projects, please call me personally at ###-####.

 

 

You can and should apply these same writing tips to all of your writing – fundraising letters, internet and social media, newsletters, and so on. How is your own writing coming? Did this help? (If so, I might do it again.)

Cheers,

-da

Photo credit: Banana Palms by C.M. Dargitz.

 

* * * * *

 

Fundraiser’s Almanac
Here’s what I’m thinking about for June. What are YOU thinking about?

 

Getting ready to ask my $250 donors to give $1,000 this year – Donor clubs with a $1,000 or greater threshold represent the most significant source of unrestricted fundraising growth available to most land trusts. Writing letters to donors the old-fashioned way – using pen and paper – takes longer and you’ll get plenty of grumbling about it from Board Directors. Nonetheless, few techniques are more effective. Now – in June – is a great time to start planning it.

 

Publishing my Annual Report – The most important value for an Annual Report is as a sales piece. Done well, the Annual Report can reinforce the theme you chose back in January and the decisions your members made last year to support your work. It seems obvious, but a little thought given here can make a world of difference.

 

Sharing Good News with my donors  – Now (June) is a good time to find some Good News to share as a specific strategy for advancing donor cultivation. Find something that has recently happened and that hasn’t yet been publicized otherwise. Something that you can share with your donors that they won’t have already heard elsewhere.

 

Housecleaning – June is a good month to clean up your files and your database – or at least set the clean-up in motion. Last year I wrote about both.

8 Comments

  1. I am adding a note to my calendar for the day before we’re scheduled to draft our next appeal letter: “Re-Read Dave’s Blog “Write a Better Fundraising Letter”. Just brilliant. Thank you.

  2. Nice! Always good to have a reminder. It can be a challenge to keep the gazillion operational things running and ALSO remember all of the best practices for how to write a good letter. Thank you for this simple and easily understood example!

  3. Great stuff, David!

  4. From my In-Box this morning…

    Hello David,

    Gwen forwarded your re-write, it really caught my attention,

    THANK YOU for an understandable lesson.

    Regards,

    Richard

  5. From my In-Box this afternoon…

    Dear David,

    Your blog about writing fundraising letters is excellent. Yesterday I signed off on the proof of the Bolton Land Trust’s annual appeal letter, and I wish I had received your blog before doing that. I don’t have the nerve to go back and re-read my letter to see how many errors I made. I filed your blog and will refer to it for next year’s letter. The way you inserted your comments right into the body of the letter made it very easy to follow. Thank you for giving “us” (joke – it’s a pink pronoun) tangible, good guidance.

    Gwen

  6. Helpful, do it again! Great turtle story.

  7. What a difference! The original left me sitting in their boardroom. The rewrite carried me outside. Very helpful exercise. Thank you.

  8. Great post! So helpful to see the original letter and read along as you improve it.