(this is a picture of me being obsessed with appeal letters)
Because it’s like a short story for your organization. With the added bonus of-the better the story, the more money you can make for your cause! And the more support you can inspire, year after year, with your donors. It’s a powerful way to use your writing. Possibly one of the most powerful ways you can write. Annual reports? People skim them. Your website? People probably don’t read much past the first page. But an appeal letter? In their mailbox? They might actually open it and read it. And if you’ve attached a personalized sticky note? WHOA. You are doing something most nonprofits don’t do!
I love writing appeal letters. AND I love helping YOU write BETTER appeal letters. Below you’ll find best practices, brutal critiques, PDFs, a whole course on appeal letters including webinar recordings and more.
Browse below or Navigate to the exact section you need:
- Writing Your Appeal Letter
- 10 Typical Nonprofit Appeal Letter Mistakes
- What to Experiment with
- Editing Your Appeal Letter
- When Your Appeal Letter Fails-What to do Next
- Brutal Appeal Letter Critiques
- Stories to Tell
- Authors can help you tell better stories in your Appeal Letter
- Case Studies of Appeal Letters that Rocked It
- Appeal Letter Resources
- Sample Appeal Letters
- Appeal Letter course
- Appeal Letter advice and editing
Writing Your Appeal
How to Write an Appeal Letter Part 1 and How to Write an Appeal Letter Part 2 If you’ve never written an appeal letter before, this is a good place to start. This will show you the different pieces of your appeal letter, the salutation, the belcher box, the importance of the PS (and how to write one). And much much more.
The Inner Game of Writing Your Appeal Letter: Part 1 Feeling uninspired? How can you start to flex your appeal letter writing muscles? What has to happen to your thoughts? This post will help you master the inner game of writing a better appeal letter.
Jules Brown has written some pretty good appeal letters. Now, he shares his advice with you.
Here are the 10 typical mistakes nonprofits make when it comes to appeal letters:
- For cost reasons, you think you have to keep it to one page
- You don’t tie it in with your annual report or other communications
- You drastically underestimate how long it will take to mail out
- You use a tiny font and minuscule spacing
- You don’t proofread it
- You don’t train your staff in how to write an effective appeal letter.
- You don’t keep track of appeal letter results, year on year, to see what to improve, or how to do better.
- You don’t take risks and send 6 appeal letters to different segments of your list each year.
- You don’t survey your donors to see what they value and which programs they REALLY care about- so you don’t know what to focus your appeal letter ON.
- You talk about numbers instead of stories.
I could go on! But if your appeal letters include ANY of the above-this may be holding you back from having people actually read your appeal letter and give generously! BUT the good news is, WE CAN FIX THIS!
If you’d like to get a taste of how I work, apply for a 30 minute strategy session with me: http://bit.ly/MTFree30
If you want to DIY, I’ve got LOTS of examples to show you! Bookmark this page, and come back to it as you keep learning about how to write an effective appeal letter!
What should you experiment with?
What to add, and how often to mail, and WHO to mail? These are all really good questions!
This is one of those frequently asked questions I get asked when I teach about appeal letter writing. This should be a test for your organization. If you enclose a brochure, a sticky note, a buck slip, does it increase the number of people giving? What if your appeal letter is extra long? Does THAT work to help people give more? Read this post and find out!
I mean really, don’t just do it once a year! At the end of the year! Because they’ve definitely forgotten about you. Should you be sending an enewsletter once a week? Once a month? How many appeal letters should you be sending? Yes I advocate sending more than one. This post will tell you why.
When you do experiments, you have to track if they work! Metrics are useful to see what works and what doesn’t work. You can take those improved metrics and put them on your resume. PLUS you can get better by taking little risks, sending one half of your list one letter, and the other half, the other letter.
Editing Your Appeal Letter
When I get asked to come in to edit people’s appeal letters, here are some of the most common mistakes I find. In this post, you’ll see a good before and after of what happens in an appeal letter edit.
Think brevity is the soul of wit, Shakespeare style. That means-GET IN THERE and SAY IT, QUICKLY. Here’s a top tip. Start your letter with, “let me get straight to the point!”
I’ve seen so many cookie cutter appeal letters. Please give. Help today. We need your help. It makes my eyes glaze over. They think I’m not really reading, when I’m reading intently. I want them to make me laugh, make me cry, make me CARE about the cause with all my soul. But these throwaway appeal letters are just a joke.
When your appeal letter fails- what to do next!
How might your appeal letter fail? It might fail simply because you don’t have enough urgency. Or maybe you bury the calls to action. possibly the font is too small? Or perhaps you don’t have a compelling story, or any story at all. This post will help you figure out what’s going on, and how to get your donor to give more in your year end appeal.
I’m not saying I have ALL the answers to writing a better appeal letter… but read my post, a Winning Formula to write your appeal letter!
Look at your last year end appeal, and if it didn’t get the results you wanted try applying these 10 tips and see if it does better. Bet you it will!
If you’re not getting the results you want, this phrase, believe it or not, is worth a try.
Brutal Appeal Letter Critiques
Why would I give you critiques? Don’t you just want to see best practices? NOPE! Because we learn from our mistakes. GROAN along with me as we learn how to write better appeal letters from seeing some truly dreadful ones.
I’ll go first. That’s right. Here it is.
Let me just tell you, no one is BORN knowing how to write an appeal letter. Here’s my first appeal letter. It is AWFUL.You should definitely read it, and then read how I would change it now.
Get ready for schadenfreude! Yeah. Appeal letters don’t have to be this bad.
Half of writing is editing. So your appeal letter needs a ruthless scalpel. Unless they’re forcing you to do a postcard instead of an appeal letter. Then you just need to calmly put down your pen, and walk over to them, and say “OH INTERESTING PERSPECTIVE. DO YOU HAVE ANY APPEAL LETTER WRITING EXPERIENCE? OH, NONE? THEN let me do my job!”
I warn you, this critique is pretty brutal! But honestly we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our triumphs. So, please read on in the spirit of learning.
Stories to Tell in Your Appeal Letter
Let’s start here. What makes a good story for your appeal letter? Is it character? Structure? Dialogue? You’d be surprised!
Hey. I know, you’ve got so many good stories. Last year you had THREE in the SAME LETTER. But for some reason, your letter didn’t do that well. What gives? How many stories are too many? Read on for the answer.
One of my very favorite movies is King Arthur, Legend of the Sword by filmmaker Guy Ritchie. For you purists out there, it’s TOTALLY NOT the King Arthur story. OK killjoys, now can we have our fun? King Arthur goes through the hero’s journey. If you don’t know what that is, you should definitely check out this post. It can teach you how to help your reader care about the issue you’re writing about. And hopefully, make you a better writer too!
Authors can help you tell better stories in your appeal letter
Do you remember Charles Dickens “Tale of Two Cities”? In it- we look at a life of luxury, and a life of poverty. If you don’t want to have a totally negative story in your appeal letter, consider having a story of what happens when your nonprofit is NOT there, versus what happens when you ARE. This blog post tells you how.
Robert Daley has written many novels, and got some of them turned into Hollywood movies. He has had a truly incredible life. I was recently privileged to read his memoir, and in it, I found some rules for better storytelling. Who knows? Maybe someday one of YOUR stories could get made into a Hollywood movie, like his did!
Robert McKee is always giving me new ideas, for how movies work, but also how stories work. There are so many ways to tell your nonprofit story. Here are just a few of them.
Case Studies of Appeal Letters that ROCKED IT
I am proud to say I wrote this hospice appeal, it received minimal editing and we sent it out. Then it made twice as much as it ever had before. How did we do it? Take a look.
Why did this appeal letter raise over their goal, $460,000? Well, they made sure their messaging was consistent across the appeal letter and their annual report. So when they sent out the appeal AFTER the annual report, everyone was ready and eager to give. They also boldly put the dollar amount they wanted to raise, aka their goal inside the appeal letter. And then they surpassed it! Incredible! Take a look and learn at the appeal letter here. Simple. But effective.
This is my interview with Bloomerang! We talk a lot about Harry Potter. One of my absolute favorite stories! Over a million words long! And it’s SO GOOD! Just goes to show, a one page appeal letter is not too long. In fact, it may be TOO SHORT!
MORE appeal letter resources
(PDF) Mailing Jargon FAQ
If you’re just starting to write appeal letters (and send them out) you need to know the jargon. Everything from strapping to zip code order. Here’s the jargon that I wish I had known when I first started writing appeal letters.
(PDF) Year end mailing timeline
You can’t actually begin your year end mailing too early. There are so many moving pieces! And a very over-worked postal service! You need this timeline to get on track for the fall. Take it!
Sample Appeal Letters
SAMPLE Social Services Appeal letters
I think this appeal letter is useful, because it’s what’s called a “Grand control.” That means it’s made over $100,000 for this nonprofit, so they keep sending it out every year with subtle tweaks. I got it from the Who’s Mailing What archive.
Are you working to get homeless people better lives? This can be a useful letter for you. Even if it isn’t part of your mission, you can still look at how they tell a story, and think about how to apply it to YOUR cause.
Sample Advocacy Appeal Letters
Do you work in advocacy? Advocacy is another one of those problem cause areas. There are so many more urgent causes! Like puppies, kittens, or children! How can we make advocacy seem just as urgent to fund? If you’ve struggled with advocacy fundraising, you definitely want to read this grand control from the Government accountability project.
What do you think of this sample? I think Mothers Against Drunk Driving does a wonderful job here. If you are an advocacy org, this might be a good appeal letter to read.
Farm workers! Why should you care? Because if you have a cause that people have a hard time caring about, you can see how they slowly build a case for you to care about farm workers.
Other Appeal Letters
This appeal letter does an excellent job of helping people care about the arts. Since most people who read this are not Native American, this can be a tough sell. So, if you’ve felt like you’ve struggled raising money for the arts or for a museum, this appeal letter is a must-read.
MORE Sample Appeal letters available at SOFII.org
You definitely want to check out SOFII.org. They have tons of good sample appeal letters, ad campaigns, and even checklists and templates of fundraising samples from around the world. A tremendous resource, all for free.
There’s so much more I can teach you! If you’d like to take a look at a sample of my appeal letter course, you can do so, here.
Learn more about the full course
Get hands on appeal letter advice, editing, and more!
For over ten years I’ve been writing appeal letters about all sorts of causes, and helped nonprofits make more effective appeal letters.
Don’t believe me? Read what people say below
At the end of one of Mazarine’s webinars, I asked if she would review the year-end appeal letter I was in the process of writing. She readily agreed and off it went. Within hours, the letter was back in my in-box with some excellent suggestions. She has the ability to hone in on what is really important, eliminate what isn’t and identify what needs special emphasis. Her webinar was packed with practical, easy to incorporate tips and I learned more in that one hour than I have in two to three hour workshops. -Claudia Harrod, Cincinnati Area Senior Services, Cincinnati, Ohio
“I just wanted to share some very encouraging news now that our year-end appeal is winding down. With what I’ve learned from you, and a lot of donor cultivation, one of my schools has seen our annual appeal grow 244% over last year. I am stoked!” -J. DeSouter, NYC
“Thanks to the new strategies I learned from your coaching, we had our most successful EOY campaign EVER.
We raised $37,036 from 53 donors. Eight of these gifts were from brand new donors.
· This is a 31% increase in gift amount from 2015’s total.
· 13% increase in number of donors.
· This year’s total is a 81% increase from our 2014 amount.
So a very, very big thank you for your coaching!
-Sam Hatzenbeler, MPH, Development Director, Economic Opportunity Institute, Seattle, Washington