Tuto­r­i­al 33: 20 dan­ger­ous ways to get your let­ter off to a good start

If you write fundrais­ing let­ters, you know that get­ting start­ed with that first line and first para­graph is tough. And when that first line won’t pop into your mind, you procrastinate.

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
January 27, 2019

Or you go off in the wrong direction and, midway down the first page, in frustration, you smash your fist on the delete button. Therefore, in order to save your computer from any further abuse, I submit, for your consideration, 20 letter openings.

Some of them, on the surface, are ridiculous. So be careful. But perhaps they will stimulate your thinking. I have used all of these openings and, if you want to swipe one or more of them, be my guest.

But I must warn you: used out of context, and used without adaptation to your specific situation, many of these openings will cost you your job. Understand?

1) It’s a dark and dreary night and the wind is spattering raindrops on my window. But, before I retire for the evening, I must write to dear friends like you and tell you about the troubles I face.

2) This is the last letter I will ever write to you......unless you make the positive decision to once more support our work. I must interpret your prolonged silence as an indication that you no longer wish to support our mission, and so I must find someone to take your place.

3) This is the most difficult letter I have ever written in the 22 years I have been the president of your society.

4) Let’s be honest: I don’t know you and you don’t know me.

But we have something priceless in common – an unabashed love for wild creatures.

5) I positively hate writing letters.

And that’s because I can’t see the expression on your face and you can’t see my face. And it’s so difficult for me to know if I’m saying the right words to you.

6) If you were to win a lottery, would you solve our pressing financial problems with a gift of $20,000,000?

I believe you would. But, in the meantime, I hope you will take just a moment and join with our other friends in sending a modest but loving gift of $10.

7) I so much wish I could walk up to your home and knock on your door and shake your hand, and personally give you this receipt.

8) Please let me quickly explain why I am forwarding these personalised address labels to you.

9) I regret to inform you that we are facing a disastrous cash shortfall in the coming 30 days.

10) Is your cheque already in the mail?
I hope so, because we are faced today with an exciting opportunity, and we must not say ‘no’.

11) I am wondering – are you flat broke?

Or have you just been too busy to renew your gift? Either way, I can understand.

12) Even though you have, for your own personal reasons, stopped sending us financial support, I want you to know that I still consider you a friend. And I will continue to forward to you the latest news about the challenges and opportunities we face.

13) If I tell you that a child died last night, you’d probably think that I’m trying to lay a guilt trip on you.

But I have to take that risk, because that’s exactly what happened. Of course, it wasn’t your fault the child died. Here at our Home for Abandoned Infants, a child dies practically every night.

14) When’s the last time you said, ‘I love you’ to the person dearest to your heart?

Yesterday? Last week? You’ve forgotten when? Regardless, here’s a little card to help you say ‘I love you’.

15) May I get right to the point of this letter?

I haven’t heard from you in a very long time – and I miss you. I really do.

16) You don’t know me, I don’t know you. But we both have one thing in common:

We are human beings with the capacity to love and cry and make decisions.

17) I am writing you this letter to ask you for money.

But what else would you expect from the president of your local child abuse center?

18) Have you ever run out of money? Embarrassing, isn’t it?

And frightening. But what a fortunate person you are to have money in the first place. In contrast, consider the Johnson family...

19) I’m really angry today.

But, for goodness sakes, not at you. Instead, I’m angry at the politicians who voted the funds to bulldoze an ugly road right through the most scenic part of the country right here in our neighbourhood.

20) I’m simply at a loss for words today. I just don’t know how to help you understand that...

This last opening is reserved for when you are really stuck – with a total creative block.

That’s enough for now. Maybe these openings will get your own creative juices flowing.

© SOFII Foundation 2010-2014.

About the author: Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger was revered in direct marketing circles as the ‘dean of direct mail’. Many years ago, Jerry gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII. All 57 of them are gems. Together, they add up to a complete ‘how-to’ guide that covers everything you need to know about direct mail fundraising. Sadly, Jerry passed away in August 2023. 

These tutorials were edited and presented to SOFII by Gwen Chapman. Gwen is a passionate advocate for donor-centric fundraising. She is a senior consultant with international experience in the non-profit sector in Canada, the United States, the UK and South Africa. She explains the importance of these tutorials here.

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