Fundraiser programs are known by many for the hallmark “direct mail” letter or solicitation phone call. In matched giving campaigns, a personal written letter can be an especially impactful way to make an ask or thank a donor for their participation. Consider sending out an email or letter before you start your matched giving campaign. This can “warm-up” your donors so your future outreach doesn’t feel like a “cold call.”
Now is an especially important time to reach out to your donors as the COVID-19 virus affects us all in many ways. As with any crisis, there are going to be unique opportunities. Practical fundraising resources that can connect people with your school or organization to make an impact will be vital.
Still, despite communicating through the written word more than most recent generations as a result of the text-message revolution, many people still have a paralyzing fear of writing a letter—especially one that is going to go out to potentially thousands of supporters.
Fundraisers are familiar with the idea of donor-centric fundraising, but we’ll unpack how these same principles of cultivating your supports can be translated into a single written communication that:
- Is focused on the donor’s multiplied impact through matched gifts;
- Has opportunities for adding personal touches and sponsor recognition;
- Is easy to read and understand; and
- Demonstrates gratitude
Good Matched Giving Letters Focus on Impact
The first few lines of a donor letter are your most important since in those 8-10 seconds, a reader will either go “Oh, this is nice. I’m glad I am giving/will give to this,” or “Great, another ask!” In a matched giving letter, the multiplied impact of a donor’s contribution needs to be communicated quickly to let your donor know this is a unique opportunity.
To avoid the eye roll, tell the donor what they did (or can do) right out of the gate. Consider openers like:
- “You can make twice the difference this year.”
- “You changed lives with your generosity last year. Now you’ll change hundreds more by…”
- “You can make my school a better place to be…times three!”
Notice anything? All of these statements directly address the donor right out of the gate, and they immediately communicate the opportunity to make a bigger impact with a matched gift. The direct address is a powerful tool that should be used sparingly, but it engages the donor immediately because they instantly become a character in the story you’re telling.
The brain is wired to be curious when it encounters statements like this. The donor will want to know exactly how they made a difference through tangible examples. Thus you should follow up your attention-grabbing opening line with examples of how this impact was made or what it will look like: “With your support, and the generosity of our matched giving sponsor, thirty families will have food for three months when you contribute a gift at our fifteen-family level.”
Don’t be afraid to use anecdotes, facts, figures, and even graphics to show, rather than tell. Remember, it’s your job to collapse the space between the purchase of a product and better outcomes.
Good Matched Giving Letters are Personal
Gone are the days when every envelope was hand-addressed. Marketing automation has lulled us all into a false sense of personalization. A good fundraising letter must stand out from the masses of mail your friends, family, and neighbors get by having strikingly personal touches. These custom additions to each letter don’t need to be anything extraordinary, but donors should be able to tell you took the time to think of them.
So, how do you stand out?
- Handwrite the address. Nothing will get someone’s attention in the mail more (short of a colored envelope) than a handwritten address. It immediately lets the donor know this is a personal message.
- Make sure the salutation includes the donor’s name. No “Dear Sir or Ma’am.”
- Sign your name. How many printed signatures have you received that look blurry and unprofessional? A signed letter has an added sense of gravitas because it shows you intentionally endorsed the messages.
Every letter should feel like it’s received a little TLC from the sender. Think of these as the “nonverbal cues” of writing; you have to find unique ways to show the reader the intent and meaning behind the written words.
Good Fundraising Letters are Easy to Read
Making any letter easy to read is a largely technical matter, but a matched giving letter has the added challenge of ensuring a donor understands the concept.
On the technical front, adhere to those classic standards: at least 12 pt. font and no more than one page, unless you have a really good reason to make it longer.
Look out for nonprofit jargon. Sterile language can quickly erode the human element that makes your fundraising letter compelling. People want to see real-life change in people, not real fiscal improvement in an organization. If there are terms like “value proposition”, “cultivation” or “systemic improvement,” find a new way to express that idea or consider if it’s even essential to include for this audience.
Communicate the matched giving program in basic arithmetic: “Big Corporation has pledged to give us $3 for every dollar our donors give. That means your gift of $10 results in a $40 total contribution!” Emphasize the matched giving by listing some sample gift amounts and the “actual” contribution they represent.
Generally, you should aim to write to an 8th to a 10th-grade audience. There are tons of free online tools that can help you gauge where you fall. Hemingway is a particularly fun tool that will help you clean up your writing in a flash, and give you a sense of how difficult or easy your letter is to read.
Good Matched Giving Letters Express Gratitude
There’s not much to this one. Include a heartfelt, sincere message of gratitude (something more than just “Thank you”) at the beginning and end of your letter, and anywhere else it seems relevant in between. The strongest letters will include quotes from beneficiaries of your services. It’s also a good idea to show gratitude in your letters to your matched giving sponsor since many businesses rely on this recognition to foster their community goodwill.
It takes practice to get good at implementing all of these tips while still getting your essential message across. Ask other volunteers to edit and look specifically for these elements. Getting tracked prospects on board with these messages before making an ask will make it easier to have face to face conversations, and sending a thank you letter will make them more likely to come back next year.
About the Author:
Clay Boggess has been designing fundraising programs for schools and various nonprofit organizations throughout the US since 1999. He works with administrators, teachers, as well as outside support entities such as PTA’s and PTO’s. Clay is a Senior Consultant at Big Fundraising Ideas.