5 Steps to Writing Dynamite Annual Fund Letters


As the end of the fiscal year approaches for many organizations, this becomes an opportune time to review tips for writing an annual fund letter that gets results. Too often I see annual fund letters that miss their mark. You have about 5 seconds to grab the readers’ attention (if they open the envelope) and state your case before your letter hits the trash, so make the most of that time.

  1. Use a personal salutation. When asking someone to invest their hard-earned money in your organization, you can at least address them personally. The time it takes for you to mail merge a first name (or salutation and last name) into the letter will pay massive dividends over addressing the letter to “Dear Friend.” We all know we are getting a form letter; don’t make it that obvious!

    And when you use a personal salutation, make sure you get it right! As someone who uses her middle name, I immediately know who really knows me personally and who bought a mailing list (and sometimes from whom they bought it!).

  2. Talk about your clients, not about you. Too often I read annual fund letters that brag about how much the organization has accomplished. Good for you! Then why do you need my money?? Or you tell me what you, the organization, need. I have news for you, donors do not fund your organization. Get over yourself. They want to fund your clients. So, tell them about your clients and their needs, hopes and dreams. You might need a new roof on your building, but your letter will get a much better response if you talk about the great work you do with your clients INSIDE that building rather than the details of a new roof. Keep it focused on your clients. Remember, people give to people. We want to support those you serve.

  3. Keep it simple. You have about 5 seconds to get and keep the reader’s attention. A lot of long prose with complicated sentences will lose them quicker than you can say “circular file.” Rather than cram as much information as you can on a page, boil your case for support down to its essence and tell those stories in short, easy to understand sentences and paragraphs. And keep that story focused on the needs and desires of your audience and your clients. You can always point them to your website or other source if they want more information.

  4. Ask for a specific dollar amount for a specific project. It amazes me how many annual fund letters never actually ask for a gift! They talk around it or as something soft like “Will you support my organization?” Sure, I support you, but that doesn’t always translate into cash which is what I know you really want and need.

    You want to ask them exactly what you want them to do; don’t be shy about it or they may miss the mark. Instead of “Will you support me?” say “Will you make a gift of $25 that will provide one child with a week’s worth of healthy meals” (or whatever it will fund). That way, I know exactly what you want me to do, and I can easily say either yes or no.

    Similarly, don’t give a list of possible dollar amounts. Ask for a specific gift and leave it at that. Research suggest that if you give the donor too many choices, they get overwhelmed and fail to act. I recommend that you segment your annual fund donors into new donors and returning donors. For new donors – those who have not yet made a gift – ask for a small dollar amount like $25 to get them started giving to you (then thank them like crazy!). For returning donors, ask them for 10% more than they gave last year. If you download their giving amount from last year into an Excel document to mail merge, simply add a column that adds 10% to last year’s giving and use the final number as the ask amount. Now, rather than asking for a gift of $27.50, I might round to $30, but you can decide what works best for your donors.

    If you cannot easily segment, (1) get a new database system that will allow you to segment, and (2) ask those who make a gift to make another gift in a few months. Over the course of the year, they may give the larger amount.

  5. Make it easy to give. Provide a link to an online donor platform (which you should test for ease of use as well) or include a gift form with a clearly indicated mailing address or a return envelope. I went to make a gift recently and had to hunt for the address to send the check. Not cool! Another had a link on their website to submit a form that I had to complete to ask for their address to send a check. Even less cool! Don’t make the donor work for it or they may decide to invest their money elsewhere.

What else have you seen in an annual fund letter that you either really like or really turned you off?