Donation request letter: How to write an attention-getting appeal

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Rachel MillsWhite arrow icon

Donation request letter: How to write an attention-getting appeal

There’s no shortage of people asking for money. Whether it’s the latest crowdfunding campaign on social media, one of the thousands of mailed pamphlets, or a community organizer hitting the streets, requests for donations are everywhere. For nonprofits, churches, sports teams, charities, and other organizations, standing out among all these requests can mean the difference between hitting a fundraising goal and falling short.

How do you make sure your donation request letter results in funding rather than being tossed out? It’s all about making strategic decisions on what to include in the letter. Here’s how you can write an awesome appeal to ensure your donation request letter is met with enthusiasm and support.

How to write a great donation request letter 

Donation request letter: Wooden block letters that say "Give Back"

Most employees of good causes have worked on donation request letters before. It’s one of the main tools used to drive donations and increase engagement. These letters include everything from church fundraising letters to sponsorship request letters for sports teams that are looking to raise funds from local business owners. They can be used to notify donors of a fundraising event to ask for online donations, or to build a donor base for an upcoming mission trip.

While writing fundraising emails is common, it’s also one of the most difficult skills to master. That’s because everybody else is doing the same thing. So how do you stand out from the thousands of other fundraising appeals? It’s all about knowing how to craft fundraising letters.

Writing a great donation letter is all about three main concepts: 

👋 Know who you’re writing to

💓 Deliver an emotional yet focused appeal

📝 Provide concrete information

Know who you’re writing to 👋 

Many fundraisers make the fatal mistake of creating a one-size-fits-all letter. The problem is that asking for donations from friends and family requires a much different tone than asking for donations from industry supporters on your mailing list. If you use the wrong tone, you’ll alienate some donors while others will ignore your request without even reading it.

Start by figuring out who your audience is. If you’re writing a corporate appeal letter, you’ll want the tone to be more formal. If you’re reaching out to friends, family, and other peers with a personal appeal letter, you can be more informal. 

Personalize the letter to the person you are reaching out to. Avoid general terms like “sir or madam” and use the donor’s name whenever possible. People are much more likely to read what you have to say when they think it was intended specifically for their eyes. Avoid using general emails such as “[email protected]” and find personal emails to send your letter to. Oftentimes, these emails flag messages as spam so your potential donor may never see your message.

It also adds a personal touch that makes your fundraising campaign more powerful. Choose words like “dear” and “sincerely” for corporate appeal letters or “hi” and “thanks” for personal appeals. Research shows that personal emails have a 80% click-through rate and can increase donations by 14.4% compared to generic templates that have a harder time driving engagement.

If you're not sure who to address the letter to, do some research. Find out who the head of the agency is by visiting the company’s website. Most sites have an “about us” section that you can peruse to identify the best points of contact. 

Try to address your donation request letter to decision-makers like the executive director or controller rather than the secretary or office manager. If you can’t find the team leads on the company website, check their social media pages to find the right contacts. 

Deliver an emotional yet focused appeal 💓 

Once you know who you’re writing to, figure out what drives them. This is key to creating an emotional appeal that will convince them to give to your cause. Sometimes you’ll need to use an emotional approach while other times you’ll need to focus on urgency and speed. Play to the driving factor behind your target audience’s motives.

Here are some of the best ways to appeal to donors:

📗 Tell your story: Talk about your nonprofit’s story, why it’s been so successful, and explain how it came about. If you’re a sports team, church, or representing another good cause, tell potential donors what you’re trying to accomplish. Explain what drives your cause, what its priorities are, and what role the donor can play in the story. The folks at NextAfter found that written stories explaining the value of donating increased donations by 560%.

🔦 Shine the spotlight on the donor: Center your letter on how the donor’s actions will make a difference to your cause. Tell them how your organization will succeed with their help and how donating makes them a hero. Put them in the driver’s seat so they feel like their actions truly make a difference. Use the word “you” as often as possible. As Bloomerang explains, this “... keeps your writing oriented toward giving the donor the credit for the good things they’ve helped make possible, which makes them feel good. And donors who feel good about giving to you will keep giving to you.”

‼️ Be urgent: With so many demands on time and money, some letter recipients — corporations in particular — need to feel a sense of urgency to contribute. You can convey urgency by placing a deadline for donations or explaining that the building they’re sponsoring — a church or a community organizing center — needs to be finished by a certain date. You can also make incentives to donate early by offering to match donations for the first week of the campaign.

⬇️ Be specific but concise: Many people feel their donation won’t make a difference, especially when it comes to major systemic problems. Using concrete examples can help clarify what their donation really means. Instead of asking for money to support eliminating poverty — something that seems like a Herculean task — say something like “your $150 will feed a family for one week.” 

Additionally, don’t ask too many questions. The folks at Unbounce found that reducing intake forms from 11 to 4 questions resulted in a 120% conversion increase. If you’re asking donors to fill out a form, try to limit the amount of information you’re requesting.

Provide concrete information 📝 

Make sure your call to action is clear. Ask yourself what the goal of your request letter is.

💰 Are you challenging them to donate through Team Fundraising or to Livestream campaigns?

📧 Are you asking them to donate their time at a community event?

🎫 Are you inviting them to an upcoming fundraiser?

Make sure the main goal is clear in the first few sentences of the letter. Regardless of your audience, get to the point

If you're emailing a donation request letter, make sure it only takes one or two clicks for the person to donate. A fundraising tool makes it easy to add a donate button to everything from emails and websites to text messages. Research shows that orange and green donate buttons perform best so consider using those colors in your call to action.

For direct mail letters, make sure the donation form is easy to fill out or list the donation site in bold. Include a prepaid envelope and suggest donation amounts so the donor doesn’t have to make any decision other than “yes.” Don’t give the donor too many options, this can cause analysis paralysis, when a donor is simply so overwhelmed with choices that he or she chooses to do nothing instead.

When to send your donation request letter

Man typing on his laptop

You can send fundraising appeals and sponsorship letters any time you want, but these requests tend to be most successful when supporters are in a giving mood. It’s a smart idea to send these out during the holiday season or during times of hardship, like after a natural disaster.

Understanding how your target donors make decisions can also inform when you send fundraising appeal letters. That’s where fundraising platforms come in. They allow you to fundraise smarter through a donor database and trackable links. You can see when and how people donate money and adjust your appeals letter schedule and content to best suit your potential donors.

If you’re sending a donor letter for a campaign, send the first message a few days before the campaign is slated to begin. Send a follow-up letter at the halfway point and a final letter a day or two before the campaign ends.

Fundraising software can help you track when donors are most active. If you find that your supporters give more at the end or beginning of a campaign, you can adjust your request letters to meet those time frames.

How to format a donation request letter

Donation request letter: Man's hands typing on laptop

Each letter is different. From word choice to formatting, there isn’t one right way to write a letter. However, there are some essential elements that should be in each request. A good sample donation request letter should include these components:

  • ✍️ Header: Feature your nonprofit, organization, or cause name and logo prominently.
  • 📱 Contact information: At a minimum, you should include the address and phone number of your organization. You can also include your website, email, and contact person.
  • 👋 Salutation: Address the letter with an appropriate greeting. If you’re sending it to your grandfather, skip the “Dear sir” and go with your favorite nickname for pops instead. For more formal corporate appeal letters, use “Dear Mr. or Mrs. [last name].”
  • 🔗 Connect: If you’re reaching out to a previous donor, acknowledge the impact they’ve already made from donations last year or last month. If you’re reaching out to someone new, explain how you’re connected and tell your story. If you’re working with a database of thousands of donors, segment them into similar profiles. This enables you to reach out to similar groups with a personalized piece without having to craft thousands of letters.
  • 🤗 Call to action: Make your ask, whether it’s to request charitable donations or in-person support. Do this in the first 30 to 40 characters so that people will see your ask in the preview section of their email manager. Be clear if you’re asking for a specific amount of money. Use action words like “change,” “fight,” and “act.” Keep the request short and to the point.
  • 📄 Additional information: If your event includes perks like auction items or gift matching, include this after your call-to-action.
  • 🙏 Sign off: End the letter by extending your gratitude and appreciation for their time. Sign the letter with an officer or employee’s name rather than just the cause title. This makes the letter more personal and helps to build a relationship.

Sample donation request letter

Glittery heart on a card

Date:

Name of sender:

Organization name (include logo at top right of page):

Organization address:

Organization phone number:

Organization website:

Dear (Potential Donor Name)

At (list your organization name), we’re looking for help to (explain what groups your organization is assisting and what you’re trying to do). We’ve already made progress on (list recent successes and projects that are in the works. If you’re reaching out to a previous donor, include how their past contributions were used to address a specific project and highlight the outcome).We need your help to (describe your call to action. Tell the potential donor exactly how they can help and be a hero for your organization).

Can you help us by donating (list the services and monetary amounts you are specifically asking for or request a general donation)?

We are appreciative of your continued support. Your donation will be used to (explain again how every dollar or donation or service will be used).

If you’d like to support (list cause), please send your contribution by (indicate if the donor should fill out a form, send a check, click the donate button, etc.).

We are so appreciative of your support and in helping us get closer to (state goal).

Sincerely,

(Organization officer signature)

(Organization officer typed name)

It doesn’t end there: Make sure to follow up 💛

Donation request letter: Banner spelling out "GIVE"

So you’ve sent your donation request letter and you’re on pins and needles waiting for a response. Don’t just sit there and twiddle your thumbs — the job’s not done yet! Send follow-up emails to encourage people who haven’t made a donation yet to get involved. Of course, make sure to write and send thank you letters to donors so they know how much you appreciate their support.

Use fundraising software to help track your collections and campaigns and to monitor your audience. It’s a great way to amplify your message and identify new people you can reach out to for your fundraising needs.

Get started on Givebutter — it’s free →

Written By

Written by
Rachel Mills
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.