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Your Donor-Centered Appeal Letter Checklist

You’ve taken the first step and realized your appeal letter might need a face lift to make it clear to your donors just how important they are.  But how exactly do you create that perfect donor-centered appeal letter.  Fundraising pro Gail Perry has some great ideas for us in this week’s guest post.  Thanks for the checklist, Gail!


Your Donor-Centered Appeal Letter Checklist

Congratulations! You want to create a real, live donor-centered appeal letter!

Let’s nail the proper tone and wording.

This makes your donors happy. It engages and excites her about your work. And inclines her to be more generous.

Clearly “donor centered” is the most powerful kind of communication we can deliver.

Here’s my handy checklist to be sure you get it right. I want to see you raise as much money as possible!


Now, use this checklist and evaluate your next appeal letter!

1. Use a warm tone toward your donor.

Your letter needs to have a warmth, friendliness and casual nature to it.

You want to sound like you are writing a friend, or an insider.

It is NOT formal or lofty. It doesn’t have nonprofit-speak jargon like “underserved” and “break the cycle of poverty” that is   off-putting to your donor.

You want to show up as a real person who is writing the letter – not some frosty large institution bragging about itself.

Say friendly things like:

You are terrific to be a long time supporter of the Symphony.

It’s wonderful to have your support year after year. 

Please come by for a visit! Here’s the phone number and email address of our donor-relations staffer who would love to meet you!

Donor centered checklist: Be warm and friendly!

2. Use the word “you” more than the word “we.”

This is a toughie for many people. They want to write a letter all about the work that “we” do.  All the results that “we” get.

Yawn. It doesn’t make a donor excited!

Instead, recognize that you are actually writing to a human being.  If you go on and on about yourself, your reader will be bored and ditch your letter.

Say things like:

You are aware that . . . 

I hope you are as concerned about this as I am. 

You have shown that you believe  . . . 

When you or your family need xxx, where do you go? 

Donor centered checklist: Use the word “you” more times than the word “we.”

3. Talk about the passion for the cause that you and your both donor share.

It’s important to acknowledge your donor’s excitement and interest in your work.

Most organizations send appeals to their “house list” – people who have in some way been involved with the organization.

So you are writing to people who already have a connection. Yes, they like you!

When you use the word “you” – say thinks about what the donor might possibly be interested in.

Say things like:

You understand how important it is to help xxxxxx happen in our community. 

You share our passion for . . .

If you are like me, you might be wondering how we can help bring xxxx to the world.

As a supporter of the xxx, you understand what the problem really is. 

Donor centered checklist: Taking about the DONOR’S passion for the cause.

4. Tell your donor exactly the impact she will make with her gift.

This is absolutely essential, and yet so many organization’s miss this.

Don’t be vague about the results the donor can achieve with a gift.

Don’t talk in generalities. Show your donor directly how and why their gift will make a difference.

Be specific:

“Because of your gift, a family will have . . . 

Your gift will help children in our community become xxxxx

Your generous contribution will bring the magic of art to . … 

Donor centered checklist: Tell the donor what her money will accomplish.

5. Remove your organization as the intermediary between the donor and your results.

You naturally want to write all about the hard work your organization is doing and the wonderful results you are achieving.

INSTEAD, say to the DONOR that she is the one who will create these wonderful results — not you!

Give the donor credit for the good that will result from your organization’s hard work.

Don’t say:

“Your renewed annual support is needed to help us fight for a strong, vibrant democracy.

Remove the “us” and connect the donor directly:

Your renewed annual support will help fight for a strong vibrant democracy.

Don’t say:

Your gift will help us continue our contribution of great art to this community.

Remove the “us:”

Your gift will help bring great art to our very own community.



Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE, is an international fundraising consultant, trend-spotter, speaker, trainer and thought leader. Her Fired-Up Fundraising Board Workshops have inspired thousands of board members to get actively involved in fundraising. Gail’s book, Fired-Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action (Wiley/AFP) is the “gold standard guide to building successful fundraising boards.”