The Letter Appeal – Getting to “Yes”

The successful fundraising letter is one that engages the reader in a silent dialogue with the signer of the letter.

This bit of letter-writing advice comes from Mal Warwick in his book How To Write Successful Fundraising Letters. Warwick cited many of the findings of Siegfried Voegele, a German professor of direct marketing. Much of Voegele’s information is based on research with eye-motion cameras and technologies that measure subtle changes in skin chemistry.

A major part of that writer-and-reader dialogue is getting the mail recipient to answer “Yes” to many questions, including the one about sending money. To do that, however, the sender must answer many questions even before they are asked.

Among those questions are Where did this letter come from? What’s inside the envelope? Who wrote this letter? Who signed this letter? Where did they get my address? And, What do they know about me?

Other questions include:

  • Have I heard of this organization before?;
  • Have I given to these people before?;
  • Do they really need my help?

Warwick cautioned that one size won’t fit all for fundraising letters, and he maintains that an effective fundraising letter possesses three attributes:

  • It is an appeal from one person to another.
  • It describes an opportunity for the recipient to meet personal needs by supporting a worthy charitable aim.
  • It invites the recipient to take specific and immediate action.