Writing Appeal and Recruitment Letters

Writing Appeal and Recruitment Letters


Unlike renewal letters, appeal letters ARE complicated. Renewal letters are short and to the point. The essential “case” for giving is that they gave last year and the year before. It’s time to “renew.” When you’re writing to people whom you need to convince – to join, to give a second gift, or to give to a special project – the letter needs to be much longer.

Fundraiser’s Almanac: February


Writing good appeal letters takes TIME. So why not start now – in February? At the very least, you will need an end-of-year appeal that will go out to all of your current supporters in October or November. So start with that one.

You might even want to write two letters, with the second to be used as a follow-up for the first. Many people consider that “follow-up” letter a completely different letter, even though it is only mailed to those not responding to the first. The theory goes that you’re only writing this second letter to people for whom the first “appeal” didn’t work. So it should be completely different, perhaps written from a different perspective, or introducing some humor. I once wrote a letter from the perspective of a land steward and got the land steward to sign it. A client wrote a letter from the perspective of a truck, waiting to be put to use on the preserves. Another wrote a letter as a take-off of A Christmas Carol, with the ghost of Wetlands past and so on.

Be creative. Make it FUN. But start writing it NOW to give yourself time to write it well.

Keep in mind that writing good appeal letters is a SCIENCE. It’s been studied nine ways from Sunday, and we KNOW what works and what doesn’t. In this matter don’t trust your gut, and certainly don’t trust what other people tell you (especially your board members!). Watch and trust what people DO instead.

I’ve written about this before (See A Dozen Rules for Writing Better Fundraising Letters). Use a larger font size on high contrast paper. Tell stories and work your writing down to an eighth-grade reading level. Use wide margins and generous white space. Run your letter to four pages. This writing will take time to do well, which is why I emphasize starting in February.

Another letter you will need is one recruiting new members to your land trust. Same rules (See A Dozen Rules for Writing Better Fundraising Letters), but this time the audience is made up of people who haven’t given you money before, and the “ask” is to join. Unlike appeal letters, a good join letter can be used over and over. The Nature Conservancy had a join letter they called the “crane package.” It featured a sandhill crane on the carrier envelope looking straight out at the audience (perhaps some of you may remember it!).

The letter and package had known metrics – when it was mailed to a large audience, it consistently returned predictable results. For years, TNC kept trying to create a letter and package that would outperform the crane package. Few even came close.

So don’t necessarily reinvent the wheel if you already have a good join letter that works for you. But if you need a fresh look, or want to challenge your current letter, NOW is the time to start thinking about creating that new letter.

Another letter many land trusts use is a spring appeal letter. Typically spring letters don’t perform as well as fall appeals, so I usually recommend spring letters be more related to a specific project or program, rather than to the organization generally. That doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for operations support. But the letter itself is designed to draw attention to a specific aspect of the overall program – such as easement monitoring, for example, or biological inventory. Don’t make it too technical, of course, and use stories about the people you serve. Again, this spring letter can be usefully followed by a second letter mailed as a follow-up.


In all your appeal letters, pay specific attention to the “ask.” Make the ask amount specific and be very direct about it. This paragraph will be the most difficult to write and will take the most time. I see no reason why most of your “appeal” letters can’t ask for $100, though this might be an interesting test. (Try mailing half of your letters asking for $50 and half asking for $100 and see how they perform.)


Got appeal letter stories? Please consider sharing them here.




Photo credit: Chipman Preserve courtesy of Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.

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