Writing Appeal Letters that Raise More Money

Writing Appeal Letters that Raise More Money


20 February 2024


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Last week and this, I am drawing a distinction between the form and content of two types of fundraising letters: renewals and appeals. Last week’s post focused on writing letters to people who gave you money last year – Renewals. Most of you will be working with land trusts that refer to people who give money as “members.” But even if you don’t, using this type of letter – instead of an appeal letter – will help you achieve better results, both in terms of number of responses and in terms of money raised.

Unlike letters designed to ask someone to renew, “appeal” letters are meant for several different types of prospects with only minor changes related to each type – lapsed donors for example. Or people who have already given this year and are being asked to make a second gift. Or people who have purchased something or paid to attend an event (like a golf tournament) but have never made a “gift.” Or truly prospective donors who have never given money at all.

These people need more than a “please renew your commitment” message.

These are your longer, story-based letters.

Writing good, story-based appeal letters takes TIME. So why not start now – in February? You will at least need an end-of-year appeal to go out to all of your current supporters in October or November (asking for a second gift). So start there. You can use the theme you adopted for the year last month.


You might even want to write two letters, with the second used as a follow-up for the first. Many people consider that “follow-up” letter to be more or less a direct copy of the first letter, perhaps with some tweaks to the first paragraph. The reasoning there is that the great majority of those who did not respond never opened the letter – never read what you so painstakingly wrote.

Others think the follow-up letter should be a completely different letter, even though it is only mailed to those not responding to the first. Their hypothesis is that you’re only writing this second letter to people for whom the first “appeal” didn’t work. So it should be completely different, using a different sized envelope, perhaps written from a different perspective, or introducing some humor. I once wrote a follow-up 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.

With all appeal letters, but especially with follow-up letters, 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.

Someone is going to tell you that “no one will read a four-page letter.” And that’s probably true, though it misses the point. Few people read one- and two-page letters either. The metric isn’t people who read the letter. The metric is people who respond to it.

I’ve written before about what works (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 at least an eighth-grade reading level. Use wide margins and generous white space. Run your letter to four pages without photos. This writing will take time to do well, which is why I emphasize starting in February.


Many land trusts also use an appeal letter in the spring. 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, or internship. 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.)


This writing will take time to do well, which is why I emphasize starting in February.


I love hearing about your experience. Leave me your stories (and your questions) in the comments below.


Cheers and Have a Good Week!



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 Natalia Kollegova courtesy Pixabay



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  • Shane Drey
    Posted at 09:30h, 20 February

    Thank you David! As a new development associate, after reading this, I’m a little worried that I didn’t start working on my spring appeal letter back in October – thankfully I have a rockstar mentor/leader!

    Could you please give me a little more information about the last full paragraph – pay specific attention to the “ask.”? Are you suggesting that an appeal letter ask for $50 or $100 as a minimum, and other ask amounts are tailored to past giving data? Or does every member receiving an appeal letter get asked for $50 or $100? For example: If the member renewed their membership last September with a $1500 gift, are they receiving a spring appeal letter with an ask of $50 or $100? or more because they have demonstrated a capacity to give more?

    Thank you for your articles every Tuesday! They have really helped with my onboarding in a development role 🙂 Shane

    • David Allen
      Posted at 14:10h, 20 February

      Thank you for the question. I’m saying several things in that paragraph, and it’s good to back up and make them clearer. First and most importantly, I’m saying “be specific.” Ask for $50, or $100, or $1,000, or whatever, but be specific. Don’t leave it as “be generous again this year,” or “hope we can count on your support.” If you need to let people off the hook, soften the language in the next sentence by inviting people to “find a number that’s right for you.” But don’t shy away from being specific initially.

      I’m also saying think about the context. When I have tested $35 against $25, I have seen no change in the number of responses. I just raise more money from each response. When I’ve tested $50 against $35 or $100 against $50 or even $1,000 against $250, I’ve seen progressively fewer and fewer responses – and raised more money. So – if your objective is to recruit people who have never given, or who haven’t given recently, you might choose to keep the ask amount lower – so you get the most responses possible. But if you are asking for a second gift this year, or need to raise a specific amount of money, asking for more will help you raise more.

      And last, I’m saying match what you are asking for with the dollar amounts on the response card. The ask amount (also called the “anchor”) should be the second option from the left. Then include one option less than that and two options more than that, with “other” being an option greater than the largest.

      For most appeal letters asking people to give again this year, an ask amount of $100 is completely safe. For those who have given more than $100 in the recent past, consider asking for $250, or possibly $365. And I recommend pulling out everyone who has recently given $500 and more for special consideration. Maybe you use the letter to ask for $1,000. Maybe you create and implement a much more personalized approach.

      Again, thank you for the question, and good luck!


      • Shane Drey
        Posted at 17:10h, 20 February

        That extra info is super helpful! Thank you so much for breaking it down even further!