It's time for a crash course in writing an effective fundraising letter. Many organizations feel that their appeals are solid, but in reality, their pleas fall on deaf ears and empty wallets because they actually come off seeming repetitious, unoriginal and as general wastes of time.
I'll analyze the opening lines of three letters, graded by their strength. Remember, an A+ letter grabs you from the first line by speaking to your values and presenting you with a compelling reason to act that is relevant to those values. It feels personal. An F letter is boring and has nothing to do with your values or much of anything. The following grades are based only on the first few lines because if someone actually opens your envelope, they aren't going to keep reading unless you score an A at the get-go.
"Dear Friend, anticipation is in the air. The festive mood throughout our community is almost contagious. Feasts are being planned, last minute shopping is being done, greeting cards are being addressed. Here at the [pet shelter organization], the anticipation is a little different."
Grade: D-. Why? Shall we count the reasons; generic, non-engaging first sentences that have nothing to do with me and nothing to do with the cause, lack of a reason to pay attention or act. The list goes on, and by the way, I am not a "Friend," I am a person with a name.
"Dear Friends, Let us help make your holiday shopping the best experience ever by choosing the gift that keeps on giving! Celebrate the holiday season by giving hope, mobility and freedom to someone who has none. You will change the life of a child, teen or adult with a physical disability, as well as the lives of every member of their family, with a $75 gift to the [wheelchair-providing charity] to sponsor a brand new wheelchair."
Grade: A-. The first line was about helping me, the second made me realize I could feel good about myself by helping others. It followed with a clear and specific call to action. It would be a solid A if they used my name instead of "friends."
"Dear [charity] Member, Edgar's learned how to play with dog toys. That may not seem like a big deal, but when this elderly Boston terrier first arrived at our house, he didn't know what a dog toy was. So I put peanut butter into some rubber toys, and as I handed one each to his new "brothers," Shadow and Koby, Edgar's eyes grew very wide, and I could see he understood this was something really, really good!"
Grade: C-. The first line is interesting and the second is personal, which is not bad. But it took to the eighth paragraph to learn Edgar had been abused at an awful puppy mill (which is far more serious than lacking doggie toys), and they didn't ask for money until page four. Meanwhile, I had been gone since the peanut butter and was only reading because I wanted to grade the letter. And if I gave them money (this letter is for people who have donated before), don't I deserve to be called something other than "Member?"