12 Secrets to a Great Donor Letter

Susan E Mangels Senior Vice President Consulting Services at AC Fitzgerald Author

Susan E. Mangels, Ph.D, Senior Vice President of Consulting Services

Ask almost any fundraising expert what inspires donors to give, and you will most likely hear something about donor engagement and communication. It is that important. And letters are still a great way to communicate!

Regular, mailed letters can keep your donors engaged and thinking about the important work of your organization. And in this age of constant electronic communications, sending a real, old-fashioned, personalized donor letter can help you stand out from the crowd.

But how do we get the most out of these letters? They are a bigger investment than a quick email, so here is my list of leading practices. You may even want to print it out and keep it on-hand to reference as you write:

  1. Write to one person. Read over your letter to ensure it avoids group-speak.
  2. Make sure you get the donor’s name right! You’d be surprised…
  3. Consider your relationship. Are you writing to a donor you already know well, want to know better, or a first-time donor? Write to the right audience.
  4. Start your letter off with a short story or colorful scenario to catch the reader’s attention.
  5. Tell your donor why what you do is so important. Focus on the results and benefits that come from your unique work.
  6. Make it readable. Use simple and clear vocabulary. Be sure to avoid ‘insider’ terms that the donor may not be familiar with. And for easy reading, use at least 12pt font.
  7. Stay focused on one main idea or theme. Do you want to give program updates, share a current event impacting your organization, kick-off a giving challenge? Keep one idea or theme consistent throughout.
  8. Include only one call to action. Do we want the donor to give again, sign up for a newsletter, OR share our story with friends?
  9. Keep web addresses short. If you suggest online web links in your letter, make sure they are short and easy to access by typing.
  10. Add a P.S. This is often the most read part of a letter! Make it a pithy point or underline the call to action.
  11. Sign your letter in a color of ink that shows you’ve signed it yourself.
  12. Include a short handwritten note to your top donors to personalize the letter further.

Now, onward to writing and sending your most effective donor letters. May they be powerful instruments for building relationships and sharing information about your work!

Finally, if you like the insider secrets, don’t miss my recent post on 10 Secrets of Highly Effective Boards. And stay tuned in the coming months for my secrets to the best donor thank yous.

Carry on!

Susan E. Mangels, Ph.D. serves as Senior Vice President of Consulting Services at AC Fitzgerald. She uses her expertise in fundraising, management, and leadership development to oversee our consulting efforts and deliver exceptional service to clients.

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