The Secrets of Successful Amateur Fundraising Writers

Over the past few months, we trained two people on staff at Better Fundraising to write appeals and e-appeals.

“Fundraising writing” is not what either of these capable people was hired for. But we have a core belief that fundraising writing is a knowledge issue, not a talent issue.

And today, less than a year later, these two people are creating VERY successful appeals! The appeal letters and e-appeals they are writing for our clients are raising thousands of dollars more than the clients were able to raise themselves.

It’s such a joy to see these whippersnappers have such success, and help our clients raise more money to do more good!

So I asked them to share what they are thinking about when they write. They wrote down the tips and tricks that made them so successful, so quickly. I agree with every single one of them. Follow these tips and fundraising success will be yours!

  1. Write the letter (or email) as if it is from one person to one person.
    • You want your appeals to sound conversational, as if it is a letter from one person to another. Avoid use of the word “we” and avoid language that sounds like marketing.
  2. Start your letter with the sentence, “I’m writing to you today because…”
    • You may edit it out later, but that one sentence causes you to focus on and say why you’re writing them right away.
  3. Use the word “you” a lot.
  4. Mention “the offer” early and often.
    • The offer is the very short summary of why the donor’s gift is needed today, and what the gift will do.
  5. Tell a Story of Need that shows why the donor’s gift is needed today.
    • If you share a story of a beneficiary, don’t talk about the beneficiary’s situation after they were helped. Most nonprofits tell stories in their appeal letters of people they have already been helped. You want to leave donors with the feeling that they need help now. Steven calls this ‘telling an unfinished story.’
  6. Talk about how the donor’s gift will solve the problem / meet the need, not about how your organization will solve the problem / meet the need.
  7. Ask the donor very clearly to send in a gift today.
    • Donors appreciate the directness. And then you don’t sound like one of those nonprofits that are constantly “kind of” asking you for money, but they never just say it clearly.
  8. Write at a 6th or 7th grade reading level.
    • This has nothing to do with the intelligence of your donors, and everything to do with their ability to understand your writing quickly. Use — we use it all the time.
  9. Include a P.S. that restates why the donor’s gift is needed, and what the donor’s gift will do.
  10. If you have a deadline, mention it often.
  11. The organization needs to get out of the way from between the donor and the beneficiaries.
    • We’ve been spending very little time talking about the organization that the letter is from. Instead, we talk about the people who need help or the problem that needs to be solved, and how the donor can help them and/or solve the problem.

It really is a joy to teach people how to raise more money!

If you’d like to go deeper than the list above, download our free e-book. Or if you’d like to work with us – we can coach you & your team how to fundraise more effectively, or even have us create your fundraising for you – take a look here.

For right now, be encouraged! You can be a better fundraising writer – and raise more money with your next letter or e-appeal – by following their advice above.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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