publication date: Sep 26, 2011
author/source: Sumac Research
People find it easy to ignore what they can't see: starving
children halfway across the world, impoverished neighbourhoods, melting ice
caps, suffering animals, depressed elderly and the mentally ill. Want to write
a successful fundraising letter? Make them see! Bring readers into your world,
help them see why you do what you do, feel the amazing feeling you get when you
do it, and share the impact it has.
What's the best way to do that? Tell a story, and make a
According to Alan
, direct mail fundraising specialist and author of Breakthrough
, "successful fundraising letters are exciting to read.
They take you to crack houses, battlefields, logging protests, prisons, floods
and other places you will never set foot yourself." Much like plays and movies,
he says, they make a scene.
Here are three examples to get you thinking about how you
might replace your typical introduction with one that makes a scene so that
your fundraising letter cannot be ignored.
Typical intro - why read on?
We rely on the dedication and hard work of our staff to
fulfill the important mission we have undertaken. And we depend on the
generosity of individuals like you to help us save lives and unite families.
The Community Project has a proud record of working to provide social services
to our community....
Replace boilerplate with compelling scene
This one is from a fundraising letter mailed by Covenant House
and is offered as an
example by Alan Sharpe:
She stood on the curb looking scared and lonely in a
skimpy halter top and bright red lipstick. It was two in the morning. A chilly
breeze whipped up in the street and seemed to make her shiver. She was a child
. . . just a child. We pulled our Covenant House van up to the curb and rolled
down the window . . . .
This intro is brilliant. The writer has managed to bring us
into the child's world. And once you're there; once you have been introduced to
her, you cannot ignore her. You can see her and, in that one story, you can see
the importance of what Covenant House does.
When statistics don't help
Every year, 5.8 million children die from hunger-related
causes. Every day that's 16,000 young lives lost. At Feed the Children, we work
to put an end to world hunger....
This intro is trying to be shocking, and it is - kind of. But
numbers are easy to ignore. They are numbers, after all, not individuals. While some people can see through the numbers
to the practical consequences, most need the consequences to be more visible.
Scene, not stats
We were frozen with shock, amazement, and fear all at the
It had been a long and hard journey through Sudan, and at
the end of it we were met by the frail, gaunt and starving bodies of children,
teenagers, and adults all rushing towards us. Protruding rib cages and
depressed stomachs. Legs as frail and thin as matchsticks. It was the most
shocking sight we had ever seen.
But with this sight came their smiles, their laughter,
their cries of joy and their warm embraces. Tears were shed on all our
shoulders as we were hugged and thanked by many different people.
And suddenly, we all realized how much what we were doing
meant to all these people!
This intro is amazing. You feel like you are there and you
can feel what they felt when holding those children. If you can make someone
feel that - that wonderful, marvellous feeling of making a difference and
changing lives - then you've got a great fundraising letter. That is why people
give - for that feeling!
History doesn't work either
Since 1984, East Side Children's Centre has provided
thousands of children in our community with free access to counselling, after-school
tutoring, mentoring and recreational programs. This access is made possible
through the generous donations of community leaders like you...
Make a scene instead
It was a Saturday morning, and we looked around to see
the breakfast club full of happy, smiling children. Each one of them talking
and laughing, completely oblivious to the fact that they were disadvantaged;
they did not see themselves that way at all. Since you cannot see their dear
faces, I am writing to tell you how wonderful it is to see them smile...
This one is taken from another Sumac Research article called
to Write the Perfect Fundraising Letter
. Check it out for more letter-writing
tips as well as a sample letter. Remember, the next time you're trying to
figure out what to write in your fundraising letter, try telling a story. Bring
the reader into your world and help them see the importance of what you do.
Sumac is a complete,
integrated software solution for nonprofits that tracks lapsed donors and
distributes personalized electronic and paper communication easily and
cost-effectively. For more information, visit www.sumac.com.