By nature, an appeal letter for nonprofit fundraising is just that—a letter. Just because it’s not an appeal billboard, magazine ad, or website, doesn’t mean that the overall look and feel shouldn’t matter as much. Even though writing your annual appeal letter doesn’t feel like a flashy statement piece, it’s a super important tool for effective fundraising, and nailing the design of your appeal letter is critical.
As such, there are annual appeal letter best practices. Here are our top tips when it comes to designing your appeal letter.
Tip 1: How to start an appeal letter: make it personal
Personalized letters will always outperform any communication that feels like it was sent to a wide group of people. This doesn’t mean that if you’re sending your appeal letter to a thousand individuals, you need to write a thousand different versions. It just means there are strategic ways to make your appeal letter feel more personalized.
One example of this is to personally address the person(s) you are reaching out to. Receiving a letter that greets the donor with “Dear Supporter” or “Hello Everyone” doesn’t make them feel special at all, and you definitely won’t catch the attention of the reader. Another tip is to put the donors’ names in the body of the letter – that will make them feel like the letter was especially written for them. With today’s technology, there are plenty of ways to merge donors’ names into each letter with ease.
Another example of this is to have your letter signed by a specific individual from your organization, and not by an overarching company name or team. If you’ve ever written to the president of the United States, the reply letter sent back signed by President So-and-So always feels more special than “Sincerely, The White House” (even though you know Mr. President himself didn’t exactly sit down with a pen and paper especially for you).
Tip 2: Strive for a heartfelt approach
When writing an effective annual appeal letter, it’s important that the content of the letter feels heartfelt in nature. When things come from the heart, they are genuine. And the more the recipient feels like your quest is authentic, the more likely they are moved to donate to your cause. If you use generic language that sounds scripted or robotic in nature, you may get a lot of eyerolls.
To achieve the “heartfelt” approach, start by telling a story. For a prompt, you can try recapping an exciting or monumental moment in your organization’s history that someone reading would find inspiring. Or you tell them about the experience of a person or family that was impacted by your organization. The goal is to hook your reader’s interest, capture them emotionally, and leave them feeling they need to give.
Tip 3: Utilize a simple annual appeal letter design
Like we mentioned earlier, appeal letters are just that—letters. Do not feel compelled to include a montage of photography and fancy designs with your appeal letter. While you may think it helps with readability, breaking up the text with photos and graphics makes it harder to absorb the heartfelt, storytelling aspect mentioned in tip number two. Also, an overly designed letterhead layout looks like a professional organization is the one writing to you, not an actual person – and we’ve all heard it before: people give to people. Therefore, making the letter less busy with photos and other graphics is a better approach when it comes to the design of your appeal letter.
Looking for more design tips? We have advice to better design your carrier envelope.
Tip 4: How long should an appeal letter be? The longer the letter, the better
While it’s true in almost every other form of communication (text message, website copy, email) that your message should be short, concise and to-the-point, we found that many studies have shown that when a fundraising appeal letter is written in a longer format, it is more successful in garnering donations.
It is important to be clear and concise with your call-to-action, which should be included more than once throughout the letter. But don’t shy away from taking up the space you need in order to nail the heartfelt, storytelling aspect mentioned above. Also, keep in mind that you should use simple, elementary words – your audience may become uninterested in your message if you are using long, flowery words (words that you may have found on Google or in a thesaurus).
Tip 5: Emphasize important statements throughout your appeal letter
Since we just told you that appeal letters are meant to be longer in nature, it still is important that the crucial information doesn’t get lost. So be sure to highlight what you feel is most compelling by using bold fonts, italics or underlining. For example, if you’re telling a story about a record-breaking year in your animal rescue, you’ll want to underline and/or bold the number of animals adopted. You can also underline and/or bold the different ways to donate, important dates, and deadlines to ensure information stands out in the appeal letter.