One way to Tackle Writing an Appeal Letter

One way to Tackle Writing an Appeal Letter

 

14 September 2021

 

By David Allen, Development for Conservation

 

There was a moment in time when I thought writing appeals letters would be a substantial part of my consulting work. I felt like I was good at it, and my letters seemed to hold their own and then some against client efforts from previous years.

But one day I got an unwanted phone call asking for my NY State registration number. The caller was a client who was NOT in NY State, but who mailed appeal letters into NY State. Their auditor wanted to make sure I was registered as “Fund Raising Counsel” in every state in which they mailed their appeal letters – much the same way they had to be registered as a charity in every state.

I was NOT so registered. And really couldn’t imagine why I might need to be. For writing appeal letters?!?

Moreover, to properly register in the 22 states that require Fund Raising Counsel to be registered would cost me more than $13,000. I could write letters all winter and lose money like crazy!

So I stopped writing appeal letters.

 

But if I were to write an appeal letter for you, these are the steps I would take:

 

1.  Find the STORY

 

I would spend an hour or so on the phone with program staff, and I would ask them to tell me stories. The stories could be fictionalized in the sense that the names and details could be obscured to protect people’s privacy, but each story needs to either have actually happened in the way it was being told, or be so obviously fictionalized (like a talking bat, for example) that no reasonable person would take it literally.

And I would choose one. One that I could tell in an emotional way, or a humorous way, or both. I would aim for about 400 words. And I would tell the story using fairly simple words and fairly simple sentence structure.

Here’s an example:

 

Can I help?” asked Hannah. (Are there three more beautiful words in the English language?)

Sure,” said David. “We need to put these rocks back in the stream, where they belong. So fish can breathe.

Soon Hannah’s whole family was involved. Taking the rock dam apart and putting the rocks back into the stream. So fish can breathe.

Hannah’s family was on a hike up to the ______ on ______ Creek when they spotted David moving rocks around in the stream. David had come upon the rock dam that was backing up water behind it. A summer afternoon project from some other visitor no doubt. And he was putting the rocks back into the stream where they belonged. It looked like fun.

Can I help?” asked the ten-year-old Hannah.

The cool part is that David was volunteering his work on the rock dam when Hannah came along. David had come along earlier that year and found a Senior Preserve Steward – Jenny – doing exactly the same thing – taking down a rock dam – on another part of the stream. Inspecting ______ Creek was a regular part of Jenny’s job. Jenny explained that lots of people play in this creek every year. And ______ Creek is a great place to play! The water is cold, but full of opportunities for discovery and adventure. It’s easy to see how putting the rocks together in a dam, and watching the water back up behind it becomes part of the fun. Unfortunately, it’s not so good for the stream. When water slows down, it warms up. Silt collects. Oxygen levels go down. And it gets harder for insects and fish to breathe.

Can I help?” David had asked Jenny.

See here?” said David later to Hannah. “It’s called a stonefly. If we can find stoneflies, we know that the stream is healthy. Stoneflies are one of the signs that the water is clean and cold.

Jenny and the other preserve stewards regularly monitor streams like ______ Creek. They pick up trash and break down rock dams. They look for stoneflies and measure dissolved oxygen. And they also talk to people about stream health. And stoneflies. And rock dams. People like David. And David ends up talking to people, too. People like Hannah. And we bet Hannah will talk to people, too.

Can I help?

 

2.  Chunk it up

 

Next, I’m going to “chunk it up.” Meaning I’m going to separate the story into four or five pieces that I can deliver in between the more obvious pieces. In the example above, I have used color to show you where the chunks begin and end.

 

3.  Write the other pieces

 

The other pieces I will need are a paragraph letting readers know that the story has been fictionalized (to the extent it has).

I need to stop here and tell you that Hannah and David are not their real names. But their stories are real.

 

A way to relate the story to some part of the organizational mission that is supported when the reader gives to the appeal.

Rock dams slow the water down. Sediment can coat the bottom of the stream – including stonefly eggs – like a blanket. When it moves fast enough the sediment keeps moving. And stonefly eggs have a chance to hatch.

IF the water runs fast enough,

IF the water stays clean enough, and

IF the water has enough oxygen in it,

IF all those things are true, stoneflies will be there. In this way, they serve as an early warning sign for water quality. A “canary” for streams. When stoneflies are in the stream, the water quality is pretty good. When they’re not, it’s a sign that the something isn’t right.

At Land Trust, we care a lot about streams and water. Keeping things IN the water, like fish and stoneflies. And also keeping things out of the water, like garbage, and sediment, and rock dams. Now don’t get me wrong. The fact that kids and families are playing in ______ Creek is super important. Public recreation and enjoyment will help keep these places protected for years to come. And rock dams themselves aren’t the problem either – as long as they are removed when people leave. Like picking up your own trash, or reorganizing any other workspace or playspace, rock dams can be enjoyed and then put back. So stewards work each year with streams and creeks and Hannahs and Davids to maintain and improve water quality. For fish and stoneflies for sure, but for people, too.

 

Four (4) separate ask paragraphs.

I am writing because you can help, now, too. I am writing to ask you to make a special $100 gift to the Land Trust this Fall. A gift that will help programs that keep stream water running clean and clear. For people and summer afternoons. And also for fish.

Land Trust needs your help this Fall. Your ongoing membership and additional support are an important part of this story. Your gift of $100 or more makes a real difference for Land Trust and for Jenny’s ability to monitor and care for all those things that live and breathe in the stream. Please consider making your gift today!

Please make a special gift to the Land Trust this Fall. Please write a check for $100 or more today.

You can help now – Make a gift to the Land Trust. Please consider a gift of $100. If you can do more, I invite you to be as generous as possible. If not, please find a number that is right for you. No gift is too small to support more of Jenny’s work on the ______ Creek. And all the other stewardship work done throughout the county. Can you help Land Trust continue this important work? Will you?

 

And a PS Note:

Don’t forget to make your gift BEFORE December 31st!

 

4.  Put it All Together

 

Now put the pieces together:

Can I help?” asked Hannah. (Are there three more beautiful words in the English language?)

Sure,” said David. “We need to put these rocks back in the stream, where they belong. So fish can breathe.

Soon Hannah’s whole family was involved. Taking the rock dam apart and putting the rocks back into the stream. So fish can breathe.

Hannah’s family was on a hike up to the ________ on _____ Creek when they spotted David moving rocks around in the stream. David had come upon the rock dam that was backing up water behind it. A summer afternoon project from some other visitor no doubt. And he was putting the rocks back into the stream where they belonged. It looked like fun.

Can I help?” asked the ten-year-old Hannah.

I am writing because you can help, now, too. I am writing to ask you to make a special $100 gift to the Land Trust this Fall. A gift that will help programs that keep stream water running clean and clear. For people and summer afternoons. And also for fish.

I need to stop here and tell you that Hannah and David are not their real names. But their stories are real.

The cool part is that David was volunteering his work on the rock dam when Hannah came along. David had come along earlier that day and found a Senior Preserve Steward – Jenny – doing exactly the same thing – taking down a rock dam – on another part of the stream. Inspecting ______ Creek was a regular part of Jenny’s job. Jenny explained that lots of people play in this creek every year. And ______ Creek is a great place to play! The water is cold, but full of opportunities for discovery and adventure. It’s easy to see how putting the rocks together in a dam, and watching the water back up behind it becomes part of the fun. Unfortunately, it’s not so good for the stream. When water slows down, it warms up. Silt collects. Oxygen levels go down. And it gets harder for insects and fish to breathe.

Can I help?” David had asked Jenny.

Land Trust needs your help this Fall. Your ongoing membership and additional support are an important part of this story. Your gift of $100 or more makes a real difference for Land Trust and for Jenny’s ability to monitor and care for all those things that live and breathe in the stream. Please consider making your gift today!

See here?” said David later to Hannah. “It’s called a stonefly. If we can find stoneflies, we know that the stream is healthy. Stoneflies are one of the signs that the water is clean and cold.

Rock dams slow the water down. Sediment can coat the bottom of the stream – including stonefly eggs – like a blanket. When it moves fast enough the sediment keeps moving. And stonefly eggs have a chance to hatch.

IF the water runs fast enough,

IF the water stays clean enough, and

IF the water has enough oxygen in it,

IF all those things are true, stoneflies will be there. In this way, they serve as an early warning sign for water quality. A “canary” for streams. When stoneflies are in the stream, the water quality is pretty good. When they’re not, it’s a sign that the something isn’t right.

Jenny and the other stewards regularly monitor streams like ______ Creek. They pick up trash and break down rock dams. They look for stoneflies and measure dissolved oxygen. And they also talk to people about stream health. And stoneflies. And rock dams. People like David. And David ends up talking to people, too. People like Hannah. And we bet Hannah will talk to people, too.

Can I help?

Please make a special gift to the Land Trust this Fall. Please write a check for $100 or more today.

At Land Trust, we care a lot about streams and water. Keeping things IN the water, like fish and stoneflies. And also keeping things out of the water, like garbage, and sediment, and rock dams. Now don’t get me wrong. The fact that kids and families are playing in ______ Creek is super important. Public recreation and enjoyment will help keep these places protected for years to come. And rock dams themselves aren’t the problem either – as long as they are removed when people leave. Like picking up your own trash, or reorganizing any other workspace or playspace, rock dams can be enjoyed and then put back. So _________ stewards work each year with streams and creeks and Hannahs and Davids to maintain and improve water quality. For fish and stoneflies for sure, but for people, too.

You can help now – Make a gift to the Land Trust. Please consider a gift of $100. If you can do more, I invite you to be as generous as possible. If not, please find a number that is right for you.

No gift is too small to support more of Jenny’s work on the ______ Creek. And all the other stewardship work done throughout the county. Can you help Land Trust continue this important work? Will you?

 

5.  Format and Design

 

Last, I want to play with presentation and emphasis and a little bit with transitions. I’ll indent some paragraphs to draw additional attention to them. I’ll add white space. And make it fun.

I will need to leave room on the first page for my Board list. For the other pages I use 1.25-inch margins instead of the more normal 1 inch. And I bump the type size up to 13 pt, instead of 12 – doing so will make it easier for older eyes to read.

When it’s all laid out, there should be an ask on every page, and the overall length should be four pages. No matter which page someone picks up, they should still get the message.

It’s Fall!

Time to give.

 

As close as I can in this blog format, this might be the final result:

 

Dear ______:

 

Can I help?” asked Hannah.

(Are there three more beautiful words in the English language?)

Sure,” said David. “We need to put these rocks back in the stream, where they belong. So fish can breathe.

Soon Hannah’s whole family was involved. Taking the rock dam apart and putting the rocks back into the stream.

So fish can breathe.

 

Hannah’s family was on a hike up to the ________ on _____ Creek when they spotted David moving rocks around in the stream. David had come upon the rock dam that was backing up water behind it. A summer afternoon project from some other visitor no doubt. And he was putting the rocks back into the stream where they belonged. It looked like fun.

Can I help?” asked the ten-year-old Hannah.

 

I am writing because you can help, now, too. I am writing to ask you to make a special $100 gift to the Land Trust this Fall. A gift that will help programs that keep stream water running clean and clear. For people and summer afternoons. And also for fish.

 

I need to stop here and tell you that Hannah and David are not their real names. But their stories are real.

And the cool part is that David was volunteering his work on the rock dam when Hannah came along.

 

David had come along earlier that day and found a Senior Preserve Steward – Jenny – doing exactly the same thing – taking down a rock dam – on another part of the stream.

Inspecting ______ Creek was a regular part of Jenny’s job.

Jenny explained that lots of people play in this creek every year. And ______ Creek is a great place to play! The water is cold, but full of opportunities for discovery and adventure.

It’s easy to see how putting the rocks together in a dam, and watching the water back up behind it becomes part of the fun. Unfortunately, it’s not so good for the stream. When water slows down, it warms up. Silt collects. Oxygen levels go down. And it gets harder for insects and fish to breathe.

Can I help?” David had asked Jenny.

 

Land Trust needs your help this Fall. Your ongoing membership and annual support are an important part of this story. Your gift of $100 or more makes a real difference for Land Trust and for Jenny’s ability to monitor and care for all those things that live and breathe in the stream. Please consider making your gift today!

 

See here?” said David later to Hannah and her family. “It’s called a stonefly. If we can find stoneflies, we know that the stream is healthy. Stoneflies are one of the signs that the water is clean and cold.

 

Rock dams slow the water down. Sediment can coat the bottom of the stream – including stonefly eggs – like a blanket. When it moves fast enough the sediment keeps moving. And stonefly eggs have a chance to hatch.

IF the water runs fast enough,

IF the water stays clean enough, and

IF the water has enough oxygen in it,

IF all those things are true, stoneflies will be there. In this way, they serve as an early warning sign for water quality. A “canary” for streams. When stoneflies are in the stream, the water quality is pretty good. When they’re not, it’s a sign that the something isn’t right.

 

Land Trust can help. Jenny and the other stewards regularly monitor streams like ______ Creek. They pick up trash and break down rock dams. They look for stoneflies and measure dissolved oxygen.

And they also talk to people about stream health. And stoneflies. And rock dams.

People like David.

And David ends up talking to people, too.

People like Hannah.

And we bet Hannah will talk to people, too.

 

Can I help?

Yes! you can, and your help is needed.

Please make a special gift to the Land Trust this Fall.

Please write a check for $100 or more today.

 

At Land Trust, we care a lot about streams and water. Keeping things IN the water, like fish and stoneflies. And also keeping things out of the water, like garbage, and sediment, and rock dams.

Now don’t get me wrong. The fact that kids and families are playing in ______ Creek is super important. Public recreation and enjoyment will help keep these places protected for years to come.

And rock dams themselves aren’t the problem either – as long as they are removed when people leave. Like picking up your own trash, or reorganizing any other workspace or playspace, rock dams can be enjoyed and then put back.

So Land Trust stewards work each year with streams and creeks and Hannahs and Davids to maintain and improve water quality. For fish and stoneflies for sure, but for people, too.

 

You can help now – Make a gift to the Land Trust. Please consider a gift of $100. If you can do more, I invite you to be as generous as possible. If not, please find a number that is right for you.

No gift is too small to support more of Jenny’s work on the ______ Creek. And all the other stewardship work done throughout the county. Can you help Land Trust continue this important work?

Will you?

 

If you have any questions about the Land Trust or any of these projects or programs, please contact us at the office – XXX-XXX-XXXX.

 

Thank you!

 

Signed

 

PS:  Don’t forget to make your gift BEFORE December 31st!

 

 

And that’s how I would tackle writing an appeal letter.

That’ll be $13,000.

 

Cheers, and Have a great week!

 

-da

 

PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.

 

 

Photo by RegalShave courtesy of Pixabay.

 

 

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2 Comments
  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 13:21h, 14 September Reply

    Your really helped me put the final touches on my YEA letter today, thank you!

  • Jill Boullion
    Posted at 08:04h, 14 September Reply

    You write great fundraising letters, David, thanks for dissecting your process and describing it in a clear way. Oh, and your check is in the mail!

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