Tips for Writing a Successful One-Page Fundraising Letter

SOTW_FundraisingTips_11.15.13

There are many successful fundraising letters that non-profits have used over the years, but I recently received one from a Wisconsin nonprofit, a tent show entertainment venue called Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua that struck me as ideal. The fundraising letter was like many others in content - the nonprofit touted its successes as proof of its positive impact and then a made a short pitch as to why my support was needed to continue its good work. What made this particular letter standout from the rest was its brevity. It was only one page in length, illustrating that a short letter can be a more effective pitch than large fundraising packets jammed with every detail of the organization.

In addition to being succinct and straightforward, the letter included a graphic element that clearly presented its impressive statistics. Main Street programs should take note - while the data that Main Streets collect throughout the year is impressive, reinvestment numbers are often provided in paragraph form and the recipient is overwhelmed trying to understand public and private reinvestment and leverage ratios. By presenting these statistics in graphic form, Main Street fundraising letters would be able to tell a story and prove the power of Main Street upon first glance.

In Main Street fashion, with R&D (rip off and duplicate), I laid out what this fundraising letter might look like coming from a Main Street community. You can access it in our Solution Center here.  In addition to the statistics column, the original letter also ran a column of ten photos alongside the stats, for even greater impact.  You can download it by clicking here.

To start writing your own one-page letter, determine the most important statistic about your program that people should know to be included in the letter. How many people attend your special events in the course of a year? How many volunteer hours were donated?  Do you have the economic impact of special events that can be included? Did you have an exceptional year in funding façade grants and the leverage they provided in leverage for property improvements?  How many new businesses opened?  How much has your city invested in downtown?  Insert these statistics in the column on the right and then state your brief appeal in the body of the letter.

You should also include payment options in this letter.  Do you invoice once a year, can payments be made quarterly, or do you want to ask donors to become sustaining members? Please note, sustaining memberships (people who pledge smaller amounts to be donated monthly) should only be offered to people who are willing to pay via credit or debit card used so that invoicing and postage costs are kept down.

A few years ago I received another great one-page fundraising letter from this same organization.  It made its plea for money very clear in the body of the letter and it also featured the list of the board of directors along the left hand column.  One of their board members had circled her name, though I did not know her, she added a hand written message that said. “Thanks for support and we’ll see you at the tent.”  The hand inscribed message made me feel that this wasn’t just a blanket funding appeal – even though it was. I felt as though they were speaking directly to me, asking me for support but also saying we hope to see you soon in person.

Through both of the solicitations from BTC, I learned about the organization, I felt a connection by the board members’ note to me, and in each case, I wrote a check to support their great operation. This is solid example illustrating how fundraising is a development process.  First, we must inform people as to what we do and then we need to make a connection to their passion. If we do both of these things, we will be successful getting people to open up their wallets and support our efforts.

Try the one-page funding letter appeal and sharpen your appeal message.  Providing additional information on upcoming projects can still be provided to potential supporters but it will be the one page cover letter that will make the most impact. Happy fundraising!