How To Write A Good Donation Letter

Making a list

Charity fundraising offers a rare feel-good factor to a huge number of caring people, giving donors and organizers the chance to make a real difference by helping the people who need it most. Let’s be up front, though – fundraising isn’t easy. Passion, commitment and dedication are all necessities for fundraising, as well as a willingness to get the job done, no matter what it takes.

As Seth Godin, author of “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us” says:

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

This tribe is your donor base. They believe in your cause and want your group to reach their fundraising goal. With a few simple changes to your communication approach you can harness the passion of this group to help spread your cause and increase your fundraising revenues.
Included in this guide you will find the often overlooked, yet simple ideas to engage your donors. At the very end we will include some email templates to help you launch your fundraiser on the right foot.

Start With Your List

You undoubtedly have an email list of like-minded donors who support your fundraising efforts. After you have created your Event, Donation Page or Auction, you will want to email this group to begin your fundraising efforts. But what you say, what you ask them to do, and how easy you make this process will determine how fast you meet your revenue goals – or if you ever meet them.Making a list

You’ve probably heard a lot of rules: keep your emails short, use a one word subject line, make the asks really big. And on and on. The good news is there really aren’t any hard and fast rules, just general guidelines. The one rule that is not negotiable is that of creating interest. Start by writing an email, based on our guidelines, that you think really resonates with your donors, tells a compelling story, and has a solid call to action. Don’t worry too much about length or other factors at first. Your biggest tool is going to be great writing.

The average donor typically gives to 3 or more nonprofits or groups per year – including those sports and school fundraisers. Most nonprofits are engaged in email marketing, though many rely more on their brand than their messaging. They might not all be sending a lot of email but you can guarantee that they use email as part of their fundraising programs. There are massive amounts of marketing emails from today’s retailers and fundraising groups that don’t stand out and they are simply going to be ignored. The first key to success is standing out in the Inbox.

Typical or standard email headlines would include:

  • Only a Few Hours Left: Help Us Reach Our Goal
  • Midnight Deadline to Give
  • Don’t miss out on a tax deduction
  • Only 1 day left–don’t forget to donate!
  • Let’s Rally Together

None of these headlines are “Bad” per se, but how many of them motivate you to read the email right then? With any communications, you only have an instant to draw in your reader and make a connection.

One way to do this is to craft a short & concise story for the first paragraph for your email and use the first line of this paragraph as the subject.

A typical donation email might look something like this:

SUBJECT: Help Our Mission Trip To Northern Canada

BODY: Dear friends and family,
I am writing concerning my plans for this year’s Arctic trip and to ask for your assistance. As you may know, we have sponsored the Arctic wildlife refuge north of Churchill, Canada. Our group, led by several members of wildlife guides, will be volunteering at the refuge during the day and doing some maintenance work at a local research center in the evenings.

As you can imagine, the cost of such a long trip is quite high. Airfare alone is almost $1,000. Lodging is another $600, and meals will total around $400. Travel while in northern Canada will be an added expense of $500, and we will also need approximately $400 for spending money.

In addition to the cost of going on this trip, any additional money raised can be used to help fund projects at both the wildlife refuge and research center to study the bears. Please consider making a donation to help fund my trip and save these wonderful creatures. You will find our donation fundraiser page at

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.


This is not a bad email, it is straight forward giving the details of the trip. But with just a few changes we can engage the reader with a more interesting and visually emotionally communication.

SUBJECT: Inching our way across the tundra of Northern Canada

We are riding in an old, worn transport with caterpillar-tracks, inching our way across the tundra of northern Canada, 40 miles from Churchill.

After a two hour-long drive we arrive in the Arctic wilderness. Battling biting cold winds and engulfed in a massive Mossi Xtreme snowsuit, we exit our transport and follow our Arctic wildlife biologist guide.

Less than 100 yards away, a mother polar bear rests as her 10-week old cub alternates between tugging on her neck and batting at barren twigs. I’m awed by how this immense animal can be so gentle, patiently tolerating the cub’s tugs and nips. The mother polar bear’s sheer size, magnificence and affection toward her offspring are amazing.

But I’m not in the Arctic to simply experience the awe of this beautiful species–I’m here because the plight of the polar bear is far from certain. Climate change, pollution and expanding human habitats are all a threat to the polar bear. With a few caring people we can preserve the hunting habitat of the largest carnivore on earth.

We need your help now. Please make your tax deductable contribution at and help us save this habitat one foot at a time. Your donations will go directly to keeping the preserve in place and helping these polar bears to continue to survive. For every $3000 we raise, another polar bear family is saved.

We also ask you to send this email to all your friends and family who have the heart to help these magnificent animals survive. You can forward the email by clicking here [FORWARD EMAIL FUCTIONALITY].


Which email would interest you the most?

Also, you will notice the second email has two clear calls to action: Donate & Forward

So How Do We Write A Great Marketing Story

Stories are fundamental to how we communicate as human beings. If you can tell the right story you can capture attention, entertain, enlighten, and persuade your audience… all in the course of just a few words.

Stories should draw the reader in, while also being memorable and shareable. A great story that also creates emotions the reader relates to will automatically become those emails forwarded a million times.

But what makes for a good marketing story?


1. We have to start with a hero

All good stories are about someone doing something great (even if that someone is a reformed villain).

The main mistake marketers make is presenting their business as the hero of the story that saves the day. This is the primary method of fashion and insecurity-based advertising but it makes for a selfish, easily ignored marketing message. Just think of the alcohol or fashion products that convey the message “Use this product and members of the opposite sex will like you”.

To tell a compelling content marketing story, your customer must be the hero. The focus must draw them into a time and place where the actions they take will save the day. The hero of the story is the one who is transformed as the story progresses, from an ordinary person into someone who does something extraordinary.

In other words…

2. What is your goal?

Good fundraising marketing is about offering solutions to what your donors feel are problems, and having your donors be seen as part of the solution. To put it another way, it is about transforming your donors desire to help, into a feeling of accomplishment – be that with funds, items or time.

Think about where your donor-hero is today, and where do they want to go. It maybe that they are very limited in time, but want a sense of helping with the greater good of solving your fundraising problem. Maybe they want a sense of solving the problem and achieving the goal with a group of like minded people.

Really think about what transformation they are seeking. Very rarely does a donor give out of guilt online. Usually they are truly seeking to solve a goal with you, and in solving that goal feeling some sense of change.

Think about:

  • How will they feel when the goal is achieved?
  • How will they look at themselves after achieving the goal?
  • How will they feel about being part of something greater?
  • Will they have new connections?

Without the dynamic of a donor-hero’s goal, our marketing story will lack the emotions that generate action. And that action is for the donor to become involved.

3. Now it is time for the obstacle.

If achieving the goal were easy, the donors wouldn’t need to be involved. Obstacles are what drives the emotions of success, and they are what make for great marketing stories. The gap between where the problem is today and where your donor feels this problem is solved, or at least moving in the right direction is the meat of the marketing email.

There are often external obstacles to your donor’s eventual victory, but the most interesting ones are nearly always internal.
Time is money
What’s keeping your donor-hero from attaining their goal? What possible external elements are standing in their way? Usually it boils down to time and money, but what are the specifics of the obstacle? Will the donor-hero be able to help solve the problem by joining the group and helping solve the problem?

More importantly, what emotional and psychological roadblocks (limiting beliefs) have they created for themselves? What inner limitations must he overcome to achieve the desired goal?
Sometimes answering the questions can be a challenge and require a truly in depth analysis of the fundamental donor group. However, by going deep into the desires of our donor-hero you will have a better ability to emotionally connect with future hero-donors.

4. You are the mentor!

If your donor is the hero, then what would your charity or fundraising group be? That’s right, you are the mentor.

Think of the 1997 Academy Award winning movie “Good Will Hunting” starring the late Robin Williams and Matt Damon. Matt Damon (Will Hunting) is taken under the wise guidance of psychotherapist Robin Williams (Sean Maguire). Robin helped provide Matt with the experience, information and tools to help him overcome his obstacles and achieve his inner goals. He guides him to more joy and emotionally fulfillment, however Matt still has to take action to complete this journey to overcoming the obstacles.

“Real loss is only possible when you love something more than you love yourself.”Robin Williams, “Good Will Hunting”

Jonah Sachs makes the spot on observation in his bestselling book, “Winning the Story Wars”:

“one difference between an empowering marketing message and the old-fashioned, insecurity-based toothpaste ads is that you emphasize that your hero’s journey (and achieved goals) results from her own effort and work”.

Your charity does not exist to achieve donor funds or even solve all of the donor-hero’s problems. That places the emotional connection on your solving the charity or fundraising problem which is ultimately unsatisfying for your donors.

So as the wise mentor, your charity or fundraiser offers a tools and experience, and ultimately the path for the donor-hero to overcome obstacles and help solve a problem that emotionally touches them.

Keep that in mind, ultimately you are the information and tools to the path for our donor-hero to follow.

5. Connecting all of the pieces with honesty.

When you’re telling a marketing story, you should always use honesty to connect your donor-hero with the greater goal, point out the obstacles, demonstrate your wisdom with the path to overcome these obstacles and ultimately solve the problems.

It’s not to say we can’t use creativity in our story writing, but our credibility and ultimately our ability to emotionally connect with those hero-donor’s will be damaged (perhaps forever) if we over promise results.

If your fundraiser needs $10,000 dollars to overcome a particular obstacle, say buying new uniforms and equipment for a towns Little League baseball group, then $10,000 solves the problem. But promising a donor that a small donation of $100 will completely solve world hunger will alienate your donor base as most people know it will take a lot of work to solve that particular issue.

You do want to demonstrate what your group can do to mentor and guide the donor to becoming better versions of themselves as they help solve the problems they care about, but keep the promises to what is expected with each individual fundraising drive focused on the immediate impacts to the long term goal. This allows for constant trust with your donor-hero’s. In an age of unparalleled digital transparency, you can make amazing wins just by telling the truth.

The last step to bringing it all together is to tell the donor-hero exactly what they can do to help. Ask for the donation, ask them to attend your event or ask them to bid on your auction items. This action, when combined with honesty, completes the circle. It allows your hero-donor to join the group and feel the emotional connection and joy with helping overcome the groups obstacles.

Bonus – Make sure you also ask your hero-donors to spread the word. Have them forward the email, or recommend like minded people in their circle that may also resonate with solving this problem to join your email list. Truly great marketing stories spread on their own, but it never hurts to ask for those that already connect with you to spread the word.

You Might Also Like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *