6 Examples of Effective Fundraising Letters

It seems that, although we've all been distracted by the shiny object of social media in recent years, direct mail has kept up a steady drumbeat of effectiveness.

According to research by Blackbaud Institute, direct mail has declined in recent years, but it remains acceptable and/or important for mature donors and Baby Boomers. Winspire, working with several statistical sources, concluded that the older generation (born 1945 or earlier) still accounts for about 24 percent of charitable giving in the US. This group also still favors direct mail. Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) accounts for about 43 percent of giving. This generation uses both online methods of giving and direct mail.

The continuing popularity of direct mail doesn't seem too surprising given the cluttered nature of all of our social media feeds and email accounts. Somehow, something we can hold in our hands and examine at leisure seems pretty special.

Writing an excellent direct mail fundraising letter can look overwhelming. After all, charities pay big bucks to professional copywriters for their direct mail letters. 

But, these letters are not that difficult. Sincerity, clarity, and a touching story can make all the difference between a blah letter and a great one. 

Keep some simple rules in mind and then read as many fundraising letters as you can get your hands on, including the collection below. But, first, do these six things:

  1. Personalize your letter. Use first names if possible. Spell the name right. Never call a Ms a Mr. Never start a letter with “Dear Friend.”
  2. Thank the donor for his or her past support. There’s nothing worse than writing to a long-time donor as though he never gave before. Look it up. Say thanks first before you ask again.
  3. Tell a story. Stories win out over facts hands down. Collect heart-warming stories from the people you serve so that you always have a good one to include in your fundraising letter.
  4. Make the donor the hero. Don’t talk about your organization very much. Talk about the great good your donor can do by donating.
  5. Write conversationally. This is no time to show off your big words. Tell your story and make your pitch as though you’re talking to a good friend, your next-door neighbor, or your grandmother.
  6. Make a specific ask. So much money is left on the table by charities that never say exactly what they want the donor to do. Say what you need and for what and when you need it.

Read on for examples of fundraising letters that moved donors to give generously.

Chimps and Bananas Make for a Heart Warming Appeal Letter

A chimp enjoying his retirement at Save the Chimps sanctuary.
Save the Chimps

This simple fundraising appeal came from Save the Chimps, an organization that rescues chimpanzees and gives them a happy home for the rest of their lives.  This letter came on simple letterhead and focused on one thing…food. I love the way the letter uses statistics …. 1,200 bananas … and how it includes the names of individual animals (Pumpkin, Cheetah and Allie).

The letter came in a business size envelope with a photo of Jimbo the chimp eating a banana. There were minimal enclosures that included a reply card, and reply envelope, and a sticker with a photo of Tarzan, the chimp. A simple mailing, but also powerful.

Dear ______,

                Few things make me happier than mealtime here at Save the Chimps.

                Three times a day, every day of the year, our 250 chimpanzees devour bananas and sweet potatoes … apples, watermelons, and corn-on-the-cob.

As a Save the Chimps supporter, you know that chimps thrive when they receive healthy foods as part of their daily diet. And that is why every week, our chimpanzees eat more than 9,000 bananas … 6000 vegetables … and 14,500 pieces of fresh fruit! In fact, we serve over 1,000 meals every day.

                That is why I am writing to you today. As fresh food costs continue to rise, our ability to provide our friends like Pumpkin, Cheetah, and Allie with the diverse and nutritious diet they need to thrive is greatly helped by your generous support.

                You can help us feed and care for our wonderful chimps by sending an urgently needed contribution to Save the chimps today. Here’s what your tax-deductible donation can provide:

  • $25 will provide 45 ears of corn.
  • $50 will provide 250 apples.
  • $100 will provide 350 oranges
  • $250 will provide 1,200 bananas

                You help to make so much good happen at the Sanctuary – from meals to medicine to soft blanket nests. Thank you. I hope you will continue your commitment to the chimpanzees by making a generous gift to Save the Chimps today.

                Your support will help provide the chimpanzees in our care with the fresh, nutritious foods that play such an important role in their physical and emotional well-being, day after day, week after week, month after month.

                Each and every chimpanzee in our care means the world to us, and we are deeply grateful for your continued support. Your gift today makes a big difference tomorrow and every day!

With Gratitude,

Molly Polidoroff
Executive Director

P.S. With the cost of food on the rise, we are depending on loyal friends like you to help us feed and care for our more than 250 chimpanzee residents. Please send a generous gift to help Save the Chimps continue to provide chimpanzees with the peaceful and dignified retirement they deserve.

Appeal Letter from International Organization Providing Medical Care to Children

Children smiling for Operation Smile Ad
Operation Smile

Many fundraising letters contain something...calendars and return address labels are popular items. This letter from Operation Smile caught my eye because of an unusual premium that was not meant for the donor but for the child he might help.

There was a small insert containing 15 stickers obviously meant for a child. The sun, butterfly, star, frog and toy airplane stickers were bright and cute. There was a message to the lucky child who received life-changing surgery: "A new smile. A new day. A new life. I'm so happy for you! From your friend in (donor's state), USA." Then a line for the donor's signature.

At the bottom of the stickers was this message: "Please sign above and return these fun stickers with your gift today. You may also want to write a short personal note on the back. We'll give the stickers to a child who receives a new smile and a new life, thanks to you."

What a great way to help the donor be the hero! 

Dear _______,

When you look into the face of a child born with a cleft lip or cleft palate, it's impossible to know their pain.

A child like this is mocked and ridiculed. Unable to attend school. Unlikely to have friends. Eating and speaking are difficult. They're condemned to suffering because their parents can't afford the surgery they need. Some will not survive.

My wife Kathy and I faced this tragic reality nearly 30 years ago--on our first trip to the Philippines to provide cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries. Forty children received surgeries--but 260 more were sent away. It broke our hearts to know they'd suffer their entire lives. So we recruited medical friends and colleagues to return with us and help. That's how Operation Smile was born. Since then, we've:

  • Provided more than 160,000 free surgeries to children around the world, and we now have a presence in over 60 countries.
  • Recruited more than 5,000 doctors, nurses and other credentialed medical volunteers who donate their time and talent.
  • Trained thousands of local doctors and nurses in reconstructive surgery techniques and post-operative care.
  • Provided free physical examinations for every child during medical mission screening and every child that received surgery also receives post-operative care.

An Operation Smile surgery takes as little as 45 minutes and costs as little as $240. In only a few moments, a child's life is transformed! But sadly, most of the 200,000 children worldwide who are born with facial deformities each year can never afford the surgery they need. Our mission is to make sure that someday, every child has the surgery that will change their life forever.

That's why we need your help. Your gift today can save a child from a life of pain--and open up a world of opportunities. Just $40 or even $20 will help provide free surgery for a child like little Ngan from Vietnam.

Ngan's parents were poor rice farmers, struggling to survive. When they saw her cleft lip and cleft palate for the first time, they thought she'd been cursed. Neighbors pitied her. Other children were afraid to look at her.

Generous friends like you enabled us to give Ngan the surgery she needed--and save her from shame and rejection. She now has a terrific smile and a bright future ahead. Such a transformation seems miraculous! But we cannot rest.

We want to go to more places and help more children. We want to continue to train local doctors and nurses to carry on the work, and establish more care centers in our partner countries, so surgeries can continue year-round.

We have medical teams who volunteer their time standing by. Now we need your help. Any gift amount will help give a little one like Ngan a new smile and a new life.

And for as little as $240, you can help pay for a surgery for a child who's waiting now. That's one life changed, entirely because of you.

Thank you in advance for helping us work toward changing the lives of children one smile at a time.

Sincerely Yours,

Bill Magee, D.D.S., M.D.
Co-founder and CEO

P.S. I've enclosed cheerful stickers for a child who will receive a new smile because of you. We give these stickers to children on our medical missions, and they are always thrilled to receive them. Please sign and return them with your gift today!

Pet Sanctuary Appeal Letter

Dog named Mila at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

The following letter is from a great animal organization called Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

The letter is filled with photos of Mila. The front of the page is in color, and the back is black and white. The envelope the letter came is in color, has a picture of Mila, and a teaser that reads "Mila is at the top of her class!"

Enclosed with the letter is a "Diploma" which is an honorary degree from puppy preschool that also says in large letters, "Thank you." The back of the diploma has some clever copy: "Things I learned in Best Friends Puppy Preschool" and "What I Wish Someone had Told Me..." 

I'd say that if you aren't won over by this package, you've been frozen in dry ice for a while. 

Here is the letter:

It's another successful graduation from Best Friends Puppy Preschool! This class will make its mark on the world (not your carpet - they learned that's frowned upon). These furry pioneers want to change the world for homeless animals everywhere. Can they count on your help?

Dear _______,

Graduation means starting a new chapter in life. Or fun times tearing your diploma to shreds! At least, that's what Mila got out of the ceremony.

Welcome to puppy graduation at Best Friends. Here is where you'll meet puppies who were once abandoned or unwanted -- and are now here at the Sanctuary, learning how to grow up into great family pets.

These little guys and gals deserve a pat on the back (or a scratch on their tummies) on graduation day. Completing puppy preschool here at Best Friends is a big deal! Like kindergartners, some puppies excel at Best Friends Puppy Preschool. But it can be a tad scary for those who are still lonely for their moms.

But even if mom is not there to help them along, they do have you.. Thanks to your support, rambunctious puppies have their very own class at Best Friends where they learn to get comfy with our world. The result? Once they find homes, they usually stay in them for life.

Like the Sanctuary itself, you make puppy preschool possible. It's as if you were here every morning at 8:30 teaching pups that it's OK to ignore the doorbell. Or how to relax in your arms. (And, in fact, you could be! Socializing puppies is one of the most popular activities for Sanctuary volunteers.)

Mila is one very proud recent puppy school graduate. But stroll down memory lane with her by checking out an old video of her very first day of class.

Those lessons have come in handy very quickly. She's won the heart of a new family!

Take a look at the enclosed list she sent us of the most useful thing she learned in class...and a few things she wished they had taught her! We included it along with a copy of a puppy diploma, snagged from certain destruction on graduation day just for you.

And remember, here at Best Friends, education doesn't end at preschool. As dogs mature, they continue with their education based on their personalities. They may enroll in wallflower classes if they're very shy. Or they may learn agility exercises if they're full of pep.

It's all because of you that we can give each and every dog -- indeed, all of the 1700 animals at the Sanctuary -- what they need to succeed. You give them all hope for a future full of love and happiness.

I hope you'll send a special gift today to show all of the animals at Best Friends how many people are out there rooting for them, regardless of what paths their lives take.

Thank you for being there for homeless puppies and for all homeless animals. Together we can bring about a time when there are No More Homeless Pets.

Best wishes,

Gregory Castle
Best Friends CEO

P.S. All of the animals at Best Friends need medical care, emotional support or behavior training (Some may need all three!) Thanks to your support of Best Friends, they are getting everything they need to thrive and become the wonderful pets they were meant to be. And the results are truly forever families. Please send your most generous gift to ensure that more animals get the same quality of care, or give online at www.bestfriends.org/puppyfun. Thank you!

Small Theater Sends Simple, Cozy Letter to Donors

The Rogue Theatre in Tucson stages The Merchant of Venice
The Rogue Theatre

This letter from a small, local theater group called The Rogue Theatre couldn't be simpler. It is on letterhead and is only one-page long. The letter masquerades as a thank you letter, but really it is an end of the year reminder to keep up support by giving generously.

Such a letter would not work for nonengaged donors, but that is not a problem for this thriving community theater. Fans are loyal and staunch givers. Also, donors have come to expect the unexpected from this creative leader.

Dear Rogues,

Walking out into the cold air after rehearsal last night, I looked up at the moon (as I often do).

It was a big beautiful gibbous moon, with a halo of ice crystals. A haunting maritime lullaby was still reverberating in me -- a song about a sailor's wife -- exquisitely composed by Russell Ronnebaum for our Moby Dick.

And I started to cry (as I often do).

I wasn't unhappy. Not by a long stretch. I was in bliss. I was moved by the expanse of the universe and the long march of history and the deep connection that Herman Melville's soaring poetry makes between humankind and nature.

I was thrilled to think of our audience encountering this monumental novel for the first -- or the fiftieth -- time. We are lucky at The Rogue to connect with some of the greatest minds of literary history. And we are so lucky to spend these afternoons and evenings with you: our audience and friends.

Thank you for bringing your hearts and your hopes and your beautiful yearning to The Rogue Theatre. And thank you for making it possible to explore these literary titans together right here in Tucson.

In all the wide world, in all the immense universe, in all the billions of moments of time, isn't it wonderful that we get to be here now to experience geat stories together?

Please help us continue, dear friends. it will make me cry (as it often does!).

With deep appreciation,

Cynthia Meir

Managing and Associate Artistic Director

P.S. You can also make a tax-deductible donation to The Rogue Online at www.TheRogueTheatre.org. Thank you.

Small Nonprofit Remakes Its Annual Appeal Letter

Child experiencing therapeutic riding lesson at TROT.

I have received fundraising letters from this appealing local charity for years. They have gone from sounding like an annual report addressed to “Dear Friend” to this one about a very special little boy. It is a great example of storytelling, focusing on one person, and explaining how the donor can help.

Dear Joanne,

When six-year-old Alec came to TROT one year ago, he didn’t talk to his parents or friends, and his father feared he never would. Thanks to you, today Alec talks all the time – and it’s music to his father’s ears.

Alec’s father, Major Jason Ring, is stationed at David-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. His six-year-old son, Alec, was identified with a pervasive developmental delay when he was fifteen months old and diagnosed with autism at age three.

Alec’s parents wanted to help him communicate better and develop his social, emotional, and cognitive skills. He lacked confidence and the ability to communicate with his peers and even his parents. Alec’s father feared he would never establish a strong bond with his son because of the difficulty they had with even the most basic communication.

When he first came to TROT, Alec was very scared and had trouble connecting with his horse and his riding instructor, Melanie. “Alec was terrified,” remembers Melanie Roeder. “He spent his first lesson in tears walking around on the horse. We spend weeks just learning how to relax, be confident on the horse, and get to know the horse.”

Melanie taught Alec how to interpret horse language by observing the ears, the mouth, and the tail. Alec learned riding positions and patterns. The exercises improved his core strength and balance; he became more adept with his hand and eye coordination, and his memory sharpened. In time, Alec began to trust his horse. A life-changing bond developed.

Melanie has taught many students with autism who have challenges relating to people, and often those students can develop a very strong connection with the horse. “Just being on the horse and being around the horse enables them to open up in a way that they can’t with people.”

Alec has opened up over the past year and reached many of the goals his father hoped he would accomplish. Alec is talking all the time, but the real transformation is his ability to carry on a conversation, not only with his parents but also with others. Today, he is much more confident and self-sufficient.

Alec’s story caught the attention of Arizona Public Media. 

Despite the incredible outcomes therapeutic riding creates, many families cannot afford to pay for this specialized treatment. That’s where you come in.

YOU can support the special bond between horse and rider; a bond that has transformed the lives of thousands of people like Alec.

Please, make a gift today. Just mail a check in the enclosed envelope, give online at www.trotarizona.org, or call 520-749-2360. We would love to hear from you!

With Gratitude,

Dina Scolone-Romero

Executive Director

P.S. Did you know that TROT has been deepening the bond between horse and rider for 40 years and has changed the lives of thousands of children, adults, and veterans in our Tucson community? Celebrate our 40th Anniversary with a gift to TROT today! Thank you!

Summer Appeal from Local Food Bank

Sad child comforted by mother
Mats Anda/Moment Open/Getty Images

I love this letter because it talks about the heat, something all people in AZ have to cope with, so I could relate. It is also urgent ("act now") and recognizes that I have given in the past. The letter also mentions several ways I might give, from sending a gift now and pledging the same across the summer months to making a monthly gift. There is no salutation for this letter proving that making an exception to the rule of personalization can work.

School is out, but...there's no vacation from hunger.

Is summer in Arizona your favorite time of year? Most people can't say that. That's why so many of our community members take some time away from the soaring temperatures. Not everyone is fortunate enough to escape the skyrocketing utility bills and high costs of childcare, though Our signature heat brings with it stressors that often put families in challenging situations.

Forced to stretch their budgets to the very max, many families make costly sacrifices, like going without food.

These families shouldn't have to go hungry when there are dedicated people like you and me, right? Unfortunately, unless we act now, many will be this summer.

Last year, you stood up and made a commitment to help stop hunger for those in need. Will you take that stand again this year? People just like you are helping to provide the fresh fruits, vegetables, and grocery necessities that will help thousands of families make it through the season.

As the need spikes, the donations from year-end giving are running out. You can help us reverse this trend and end our fiscal year strong, prepared to face whatever lies ahead.

Join us this summer with a special three-month commitment that will go a long way in helping people get through this trying time.  You can send a gift today and pledge to do the same in July and August, or make a single gift that stretches across the entire summer. Better yet, sign up for monthly giving and make a difference all year long!

Hunger and hardships don't take a summer break. With your help, we can ensure that hope for these families won't either.

With gratitude,

Michael Mcdonald
Chief Executive Officer
Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona