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  • 7 Reasons Personal Appeal Letters Are Still the Best Way to Fundraise

A globally connected, Facebook-friending, website form-filling society now mostly gives to charity after watching YouTube video testimonials and surfing crowdfunding pages, right? Wrong! Only 7% of giving is online, but 80% of philanthropy is from individuals. (Source: NPEngage.com)

People may be giving more online, but they do not give the majority of their charitable donations on the Web. The most effective way to fundraise, above and beyond any other method, is a personal appeal letter for major gift support.  That trend, no matter how seemingly popular Indiegogo or any other new fundraising app is, will most likely never go away for good reasons.

personal letter

1. Fundraising is not about money

Nonprofits are, by definition, not about making money. They are about helping disabled children whose parents are poor; they are about teaching immigrants job skills; they are about saving endangered habitats for animals we love. Nonprofits are about causes, and hence fundraising is about causes.

Donors give to an organization because they want to be connected to a cause and see a positive result to some sort of community or social problem. If you paint that result in an appealing, letter, you are connecting your donor to your cause and most likely successfully fundraising. “10 MLS children will walk again with a $2,000 gift from you”; or “5 Hispanic first generation single mothers will learn English to get a skilled worker job with your gift”.

2. Donors read

Even if communication changes drastically over the next generation with tweeting and Instagram-ing and all its associated snippet information digestion, donors come from educated classes that read and always will.

In fact, a Pew study shows that more young adults and teenagers are reading now than before, and they are also much more educated and hence likely to read going forward. Maybe that reading is on a Kindle or other such mobile device, but you can easily turn your letter into an email, PDF or a Google doc. It should still be a letter though.

3. Individuals are philanthropists

Most US giving comes from individuals, because even if you are raising money from foundations or corporations, individuals are making those funding choices in the majority of cases. Your appeal needs to appeal personally to a particular person.

How do you relate personally to someone via an Internet proposal form or a Crowdfunding pitch, even if you are successfully “connecting to the cause” as described above? It is impossible! You want to initiate a specific, one-on-one communication.

4. A culture of paper trails or e-trails

While a personal meeting is fantastic, and of course would help make that specific, one-on-one communication, if you skip the letter, most likely your donor will skip you, whether because they forget, or just because a secretary in another office handles their checks and they need correspondence to mark the trail. Think of it like an invoice!

5. Testimonials in a few sentences

Testimonials are the new buzzword in nonprofit writing circles, especially as organizations navigate the complex world of web content writing. A story from the voice of one of your program participants sharing how your work changed her life is much more interesting than you listing statistics that show your impact.

Many out there are opting for video clips to show their testimonials, like CauseVox who claims clients with good videos raise 80% more money and offers these 5 good video clip testimonial examples.

If you can afford it, sure, put together a video testimonial – but always couple your link with a quick, effective, written highlight. If your video is an overseas child that received a heart transplant, provide a quick quote from her and use a picture of her experience as the video link.

Why? Because big gifts are not coming from the videos directly but from letters and personal interactions that direct donors to the videos, and it is best not to presume that your prospects have time to watch even your short, two minute clip.

6. A letter shows commitment and expense

An email sent does not cost what a letter sent costs. If you take the time to type, format, print, sign, and stuff a personal letter into an envelope, you will always be conveying more care and messaging into your ask. Send an email in addition to your letter, but not as a replacement.

7. Mail is personal

If you are sending a personal appeal, than it should arrive in the mail. At least 67% of people think that snail mail is more personal than email and correspondence received over the Internet. It is a physical thing entering their homes, their lives. Email can be ignored, but your letter is intriguing. As more and more direct marketers opt for email over snail mail, your physical letter becomes even more special, targeted, and personal to your donor prospect.


No matter what the shape or size of your nonprofit, if you need to fundraise, you want to do so with appeal letters! Now that you know why to use them, you want to be careful to pick the right style to send for your particular work. This book is designed to give you targeted examples of appeal letters for a variety of occasions to help you make your missions happen!

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