Tutorial 30: how to pass judgment on a fundraising letter.

For the attention of those who are responsible for approving fundraising letters: this tutorial is for you.

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
January 30, 2019

Many people face one major problem when it comes to editing or approving fundraising letters: they resent the necessity for raising money by direct mail. And this resentment carries over into a negative attitude toward fundraising letters.

So here are my suggestions:

1. Give yourself some positive reinforcement.

When you write to your donor list, you are writing to people who already love you and support you. Cheer up! These are people who want to give you money, it gives them a good feeling. If they gave you money once, why wouldn’t they want to give you money again?

2. Get your mind off the letter of complaint you read earlier this morning.

If you feel harassed and angry when you edit a fundraising letter you will be on the defensive, so your primary concern will be to send out a letter that avoids problems and not a letter that is designed to raise the maximum amount of money.

3. Don’t try to edit the letter so that it ‘sounds like you’.

Perhaps you tend to use business phrases and feel uncomfortable with emotional language and so your personal style can seem cold and sterile. But don’t forget that your reader wants you to be warm, caring and positive. So allow yourself to be that kind of person, at least on paper.

4. Trust your writer’s technical expertise.

Your writer probably writes short paragraphs, disobeys the rules of grammar and uses a lot of human anecdotes and non-technical language. All of this is contrary to your instincts, isn’t it? And that’s probably because you have not seen test results. Your writer has and that’s why you hired the person in the first place.

5. Make sure your writer opens the letter with a strong beginning.

Sometimes your writer may not get into the spirit of the letter until the fourth or fifth paragraph. However, the opening sentence of the letter must attract your attention. It must be dramatic, emotional or personal. If you don’t feel that the opening is strong, send it back to the writer immediately. Don’t read another word, because if the opening must be changed then the entire flow of the letter may change.

6. Don’t get hung up on the length of a letter.

Some letters should be long. Some should be short. The length of the letter is determined by the subject matter, not by some notion that may be stuck in your mind.

7. Be sure the letter asks for a specific donation amount.

The donation amount may vary depending on the previous gifts of the donor and depending on the type of appeal or campaign. People respond to a specific challenge. If your policy is to let your donors ‘make up their own minds’ then I would guess that you are far from achieving your income potential.

8. Don’t pass the letter around the office for further approval, unless it is absolutely necessary.

Keep the number of people who approve the letter to a minimum. Too often organisations allow multiple individuals to approve letters. Often these people have absolutely no background or experience in editing a fundraising letter.

However, if it is necessary for others to approve the letter, then do not – I repeat do not – absolutely do not let them do any ‘editing’.

They must deal in policy matters only. If they disagree with the policy then it is up to the writer to deal in the words that reflect that policy. But you can’t let your committee suddenly become ‘wordsmiths’. They’ll destroy a letter.

© SOFII Foundation 2010-2014.

About the author: Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger is revered in direct marketing circles as the dean of direct mail. 

Some years back Jerry gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII and we’ve been serialising them ever since. All 50-plus are gems. Together, they add up to a complete ‘how-to’ guide to everything you need to know about direct mail fundraising.

These tutorials are edited and presented by Gwen Chapman.

Gwen_Chapman.jpg#asset:8990:urlGwen Chapman 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 to these tutorials here.

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