Many fundraisers state that writing these sorts of letters is one of the most difficult parts of their job. Here are a few basic rules to follow to help you on your way.
Don’t even touch your computer until you know whom you’re writing for. Your target audience will determine everything about your letter from the words you use and the format you write in, to the way it’s laid out.
Once you can visualise a member of your target audience, make sure your copy speaks personally to them. Refer to them as “you”. Instead of using “I” or “me” use “we” or “our” so the reader feels like they’re making a connection with your organisation. Try to get the name and position of whom your letter is addressed to.
People remember good opening lines and fundraising letters are no different. You only have a few seconds to grab your reader’s attention so start in a way that you know will keep them reading. For example, compare: “I’m writing from a charity called Befriending England” to “Sometimes your neighbour Ethel doesn’t see anyone for two weeks.”
Make sure you provide a personal story that allows readers to look past the statistics to the human stories beyond. You can either use direct quotes from a case study or tell their story.
“We help homeless children on the streets of London” sounds a little vague. What readers really want is concrete information about what your charity can achieve. Sentences like “We have 50 homeless shelters in the capital providing the warmth and food which could save over 150 young people’s lives this Winter,” make a strong, specific case for your work.
Try to keep your letter brief – no more than a couple of pages long. Try not to fill your letter with just text, use bullet points and a neat layout to improve presentation and make it more ‘reader friendly’. Photos can help build a picture – but don’t go over the top!
There’s a purpose to writing your letter, so make sure you are clear about your ‘ask’. Be specific. Your reader should start and finish the letter knowing what you want them to do.
Using plain English isn’t about dumbing down your message. It’s about ensuring that every one of your readers understands what you have to say and has the opportunity to respond. Get feedback from other staff members and amend accordingly.
And don’t forget, if you do successfully obtain a grant – don’t forget to thank the funder!