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  • Writer's picturerob grayson

Please Stop Saying "Dear Friends:"

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

For generations, sending out annual appeal letters has been a tried-and-true way of raising money for nonprofits. When e-mail and later social media broke onto the scene, many thought that electronic solicitations would replace hand-delivered mail, but that hasn’t really been the case. Nonprofits still report that direct mail solicitations are their most consistent form of fundraising. Maybe because the process is as simple as 1-2-3.

  1. You gather the list(s) that you want to mail to.

  2. You write a letter explaining why supporting your project, goal, mission, or activity is something the recipient should care about.

  3. You mail it to your list... then wait.

Pretty straightforward. However, over the years some organizations have refined this process to yield greater results. Let’s talk about what those things are and how you can leverage them in your next direct mail campaign.

The key to all good fundraising is relationships. Sure, sharing the amazing work of an organization in a well-written letter in order to receive the first gift from a donor works, but once that donor makes a gift they need cultivation and attention in order for you to retain. And yes, this is something you can do in your direct mail appeal. One of the biggest mistakes I have seen organizations make is to start an appeal letter with… “Dear Friends:” or worse, “Dear Supporters:”. What these organizations are actually saying is… “We have no idea who you are or didn’t take the time to get your information correct when you gave us a donation so instead of calling you by the wrong name we are just going to call you friend… you cool with that?” Well, unfortunately – they really aren’t cool with that. If they have given you money, they would really like you to know who they are, especially if you are asking them to do it again.

But beyond the salutation, there is much more you can do to say you know and appreciate your donors. Include a thank you for the last gift they made with language like “we are so grateful for the $100 gift you made to our last campaign, we hope you will consider matching that amount or even increasing it.” With this kind of personalization, you have not only thanked them again for their contribution, but you have set the stage of where your current donation request should start.

Now that you have set the stage for your donor to give at a level they are comfortable with – make sure your giving ladder reflects that as well. Custom giving ladders… you know those things on the remit that have a little check box with a dollar amount next to it? Too many organizations leave money on the table and don’t grow their donors giving capacity by using a generic giving ladder. Instead, consider starting the ladder at their prior gift amount and continue in increments of 10%, 20%, and 50%. Example: $100, $110, $120, $150 and Other: $_____. This custom giving ladder helps ensure that your donors will give at least at the level they gave previously. Research has shown that most of the time donors increase their giving because the request is in a range that is agreeable for that donor.

Ok, so you have written a great letter explaining why your organization deserves support. You have found ways to personalize it. You have created a custom gift ladder. Now let’s make sure that the recipient reads it or at least understands what you are asking. Here’s the thing, all of us take in information differently. Some people will receive a letter and read it from beginning to end, some will skim it looking for the salient points, and yet others will simply look at it to see if they can discern what it’s all about. The trick here is to write for everyone.

  1. Write a clean, concise letter that gets to the point and has a clear ask and call to action.

  2. Highlight a few key sentences that if read alone might convey the overall message of the letter.

  3. Include images that help tell your story, even if they are stock photos. You know the adage “a photo speaks 1000 words.”

Lastly, make it easy for your donor to act. Always include some form of remit coupon and reply envelope. Adding the donor name and address to the remit means they don’t have to do it and reinforces that you know them. If you also include their donor identification number somewhere on the remit it will make it easy for you to process the gift in your database once you receive it. This little tip will reduce data entry errors and database redundancies.

To learn more about creating effective appeals, contact one of the Boone team members who can help you plan your next campaign, or visit our website to get free downloads that will help make this appeal season your best one yet!

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