Home 2017 Summer Learning Series How to Write Successful Retention & Acquisition Letters
How to Write Successful Retention & Acquisition Letters

How to Write Successful Retention & Acquisition Letters

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Donor Centric Annual Appeal Letters

In his book, A Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, Jeff Brooks talks about the writing style of fundraisers.

He says successful fundraising writing is the result of decades of experience and it is very unique. In fact, it is so different that it can be a bit of a shock. Business writers might find it to be too casual. Journalists would think it is too repetitive and subjective. And academic writers likely find fundraising writing to be too messy and simplistic. Fundraising letters are simply a different animal.
Knowledge is power!

When fundraising , we know exactly how many donors responded to our letters. We know how much each one gave, we know how many gave again, how much, and how often. Because we know our numbers, we know when we need to change things.

Sense of Urgency

The importance of being urgent cannot be overstated. Tell your donors that immediate action needs to be taken. Let them know what is at stake. Let them know they are important by addressing the letter to one donor.


One of the reasons that donors don’t give is because they think that their gifts don’t matter. To make sure your donors don’t feel this way, tell one story to one person at a time. Tell a particular story about one person your donor’s gift will affect. Don’t say, “your gift will fund our ongoing work.” This makes their gift seem unimportant.

Easy to read

You’ve written a good message. You’ve let your donor know their role. Now you must make it easy to read. Use short words and short paragraphs. The very best grade level to write to for ease of reading is between 4th and 6th grade. This can spell success or failure


Long messages work better. In fact, Jeff’s research showed that in direct mail, the shorter message only does better about 10% of the time. Longer messages are even still holding their own against short messages, tweets, and texts. Watch your donor behavior to determine if long letters are still right for your audience.

Why is long better? There are several theories:

Aunt Ruth Theory – Many donors, especially baby boomers, just enjoy reading. Jeff named this theory after his aunt who aunt who loved to read long solicitations because it made her feel connected to the causes she cared about.
• Multiple Triggers Theory – Donors are more likely to give when you help them visualize a need and that takes a longer message.

• Hopscotch Theory – Very few people read every word on the page. They bounce around reading a little here and a little there. So the longer the letter the more they might read.

– If the letter is long it may signal to donors that it is more important.

In a long letter, it is important to use repetition. Make your ask several times throughout. Put an ask in between each of your other components. If you are serious about raising funds, you really have to ask again and again.

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Successful Fundraiser of 22 years; Pet owner and lover; triathlete and sportswoman; Gardner; Love to dance; Music a must; Workaholic


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