Fundraising Letters - It's Simple, But it Works!

For most people, brainstorming about how to go about fundraising starts almost as soon as they register for the Susan G. Komen 3 Day for the Cure.  Galas, parties, bake sales, garage sales, golf tournaments...  You name it, people are doing it.  Everyone wants to go big or go home with their fundraising events.  However, there is one fundraising technique that should not be overlooked - a letter writing campaign!

Everyone that participates in the 3 Day can and should take part in a letter writing campaign.  It's cheap and relatively easy compared to planning a big, over the top event.  You can do it totally on your own time or you and your teammates can make a night of it.  Plus, fundraising letters are an incredibly effective means of raising large amounts of money.  In both '07 and '08, I only did two things to raise money for the 3 Day:  I hosted a small party at my house for close friends each year and I wrote boatloads of letters (both email and snail mail).  On average, I made about $300 per party.  All the rest of the money that I raised (about $12,000 between the two events) came as a result of my letters.  So trust me when I say that writing fundraising letters should be a major part of your fundraising strategy!

To help everyone get the most of their fundraising letters, I thought I would go through each step of the process and share my advice based on what I've found works best.  As always, this is what has worked for me.  Feel free to share your tips as well!

Who should I send my letters to?

The first step in preparing your fundraising letters is to compile your list of potential donors.  The 3 Day handbook suggests shooting for at least 100 people on your contact list.  My potential donor list this year has 154 people on it and I'm still adding names to it every week.  That covers everyone from my childhood friends, my college friends, my grad school friends, my husband's college friends, my family and our family friends, my husband's family and their family friends, my work colleagues, my mom's work colleagues... truly anyone and everyone that you can think of.  I've found that the best place to start when compiling your list of potential donors is your Christmas Card list and/or your wedding guest list.  From there, just start adding people!

Once I have my basic list, I go through and designate each person to receive either an email letter, a snail mail letter or in some cases, I send both.  For most people, an email request is going to be the best option.  It is very easy to follow the links in an email to make a donation online and it doesn't cost you anything to send all those emails.  However, emails are also easily lost in the flurry of online communications that we each receive every day.  Also, potential donors of an older generation may not be as internet-savvy and would be more comfortable receiving a standard letter.  There are pros and cons to both options.  You just need to figure out what is best for each of your potential donors.

Finally, a word of advice.  When compiling your list of potential donors, include everyone, even if you think that they are unlikely to donate, either due to lack of means or lack of interest.  You never know who has been touched by breast cancer and who hasn't.  Moreover, even if your contact can't donate themselves, they may still forward your information on to other people on your behalf.  If you never send a letter to them, they have nothing to send on.  Do not decide who can or cannot donate for them.  The only people who definitely won't donate are the people that you never ask.  So seriously - ask everyone!

My fundraising letter station

What should I include in my letter?

Your fundraising letter doesn't have to be that long.  In fact, the more succinct it is, the better.  I like to try to limit myself to the front of one page of paper, although this year my letter was slightly longer than that.  In terms of content, I generally break my fundraising letter down into 5 parts:

1.  A unique title (email only).  You want to be attention grabbing but also somewhat professional.  In addition, you may need to be a bit creative here in order to avoid your letter winding up in someone's spam filter.  Avoiding nondescript titles that directly suggest solicitation ("Donations needed!" "I need your help!") or that are heavily breast focused ("It's Boobie Time!") in order to avoid getting filtered out.  I like to include the actual name of the event in the title.  But just be warned that not every email will get through every spam filter, even with the most innocuous title.

2.  A hook.  I usually open with a statistic about breast cancer that I have found particularly striking or with a personal story.

3.  A brief explanation of what the event is.  Most people are not all that familiar with the 3 Day.  While you don't have to go into all the details about the pink tents and all that, you should emphasize the basics:  that it is a three day, 60 mile walk designed to raise money and awareness for breast health and breast cancer research.  You should also note that it benefits Susan G. Komen for the Cure and that by signing up for the 3 Day, you are obligated to raise a fairly large chunk of money.

4.  A request for a donation and an explanation of how to go about making that donation, both via check (and therefore snail mail) or online.  

For snail mail letters, I include a self addressed, stamped letter that is addressed to my home address and ask that my donors use that to submit checks (made out to "Susan G. Komen 3 Day for the Cure") directly to me.  I never include donation forms with my letters.  I prefer to fill out the forms and attach them to the checks myself so that I can better track each donation that I receive.  All of the information that you need to complete the donation form can generally be found in the address section of all personal checks.  If you would prefer that donors submit their checks directly to Komen for the Cure and the 3 Day, be sure to address your self addressed, stamped envelopes appropriately and to include a donation form as well.

For online donations, I simply list the URL for my personal donation page.  In an email, I make sure that this is a hotlink to make it really easy.  For snail mail, you will have to write out your URL.  That is where having a shortened, personalized URL for your donation page comes in really handy.  I talked about how to go about doing that in this post about setting up your personal page on the 3 Day website.

5.  Finally, I end with a brief paragraph or two elaborating on my personal reasons for getting involved in the fight against breast cancer and why I specifically chose the Breast Cancer 3 Day.  The most important thing to keep in mind is to make your story heartfelt.  There are a hundred reasons why people decide to take on the challenge of the 3 Day and all of them are legitimate.  Being honest and sincere about why this is an important cause for you will go a very long way!

And hey, if you're really stuck, there are samples of fundraising letters available on your Participant Center.  Just click "Fundraising" on the left hand menu and the link for the sample letters will appear as the third link in the list that pops up.

When should I send my letters?

The earlier, the better!  Ideally, you should aim to send your letters out at the beginning of your fundraising activities.  This is a great way to announce to your networks that you have accepted this great challenge.  I think it is a great goal to try to get your first round of letters in the mail before your 24 week training schedule kicks off so that you aren't trying to do both things at once.  Plus, the earlier you send your first letters, the more time you have to follow up with people who haven't donated yet.

Now, that being said, it is never too late to send out a fundraising letter!  In '08, I waited until about 10 weeks prior to the event to send my letters.  Likewise, I sent my letters out a bit later this year than I had intended as well.  If you wait, you won't have as much time for people to respond to your fundraising requests.  But it is always better to send your letters late than to not send them at all!

Where should I send my letters from?

For snail mail letters, this should be obvious.  You send your letters from the post office!

For digital letters, it's a bit more complicated.  For sending out emails, you actually have two options.

1.  You can send emails from your Participant Center on the 3 Day website.  Through your Participant Center, you have access to an online address book where you can upload all of your contacts.  This can be a bit time consuming, but once everything is there, it's there for good.  Your address book is even saved from event to event over multiple years provided that you register under the same name.  Taking the time to do this once can be a big advantage in the long run.  You can also upload and save a copy of your letter on Participant Center as well.  Then, when you are ready to send out your emails, simply click the "Email" box at the top of the page, select your letter and the people you want to send it to and click "send".  The advantage to using the Participant Center is that your letters will look very "official", with 3 Day email letterhead and full links to the 3 Day website.  On the downside, a lot of spam filters will block mass emailings from a public website, so your emails may not get to their intended recipient.

2.  You can send emails from your personal email address.  The advantage here is that you probably already have all of your contacts in your address book already.  Your personal emails are also more likely to get through a spam filter than an email sent from the 3 Day website.  However, the emails generated from your personal account are a bit less flashy.

Really, it all comes down to personal preference.  I generally use the Participant Center email functions to send out my fundraising letters.  My teammate Mel usually sends her letters from her personal account.  It's all about deciding what works best for you and doing it.

Oh, and don't forget about your social media!  Sending your letters to via Facebook Message and/or posting a copy of your letter as a note and tagging people can be a great way to increase your pool of potential donors!

My snail mail letters, all ready to go out to my potential donors!

How can I make my letters distinct?

Admittedly, with email, it can be a bit hard to make your fundraising letter stand out.  Be careful with the title (as I said before) and do your best to come up with something to get people's attention.  

Now, for snail mail letters, you can make your letters stand out a bit from the avalanche of bills and mass mailings that we all get all the time.  Personally, I use hot pink gel pens to address all of my envelopes, including the self addressed stamped envelopes.  I also use breast cancer specific return address labels (that I received from Komen over the years) and breast cancer stamps when I can.  You can also affix 3 Day stickers to your envelopes if you want to really make your letters stand out.  In addition, I also print all of my letters on pale pink paper.  Again, just a little something so that someone looking for my letter later on can identify it easily.  I would recommend against hot pink paper, as it can be hard to read off of, but I think pale pink works well.

Why should I be doing all this?

Like I said, IT WORKS.  I raised $12,000 in two years via letters.  Potential donors might remember that you mentioned something about donating in passing if you just talk it up.  Business cards are great in a pinch but are easily lost.  Big events can take a lot of time and money to plan.  But fundraising letters are quick, easy and effective.  Plus, once someone has that letter in hand, they are more likely to forward it on to more people, thus increasing your pool of donors.  So set aside a night or two, write your letter, stuff those envelopes, and then wait for your donations to come in! 

To view a copy of the fundraising letter that I sent out to my potential donors, please see this post on our team fundraising blog.

For links to the fundraising letters that my teammates have composed, please see this post, again on our team fundraising blog.

To view my fundraising letters from previous years, please click the links below.

Good luck and happy fundraising!

Search Amazon.com for Pink Gel Pens


Cat, Fat Girl Walkin' said...

Thank you for this. I keep putting off sending out emails/letters. I've been relying so far on social media, my blog, word of mouth and good-natured personal harassment. The personal story part is tripping me up a bit. I also have a hard time asking people for money, but this, as of course you already know, is a most excellent cause. I appreciate your time and experience! I'm sure this will help lots of us newbies. :)

Holly said...

Awesome post!!! :) Thank you!!

Loretta said...

Sending my walk information to as many people as I can think of has been key for me. I sent out my letter to over 400 people. A little over 25% responded with a donation. SEND IT TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!

crimsoncat05 said...

great post-- I started out using Facebook and e-mails, but have also sent letters, and need to send more.

Also, don't forget the businesses you frequent! I sent some, and dropped off a couple others in person. When I stopped in the store and asked to see the manager I started the conversation with "I'm soliciting a donation for..." The cashier stopped me and told the manager, "she's not just soliciting, she's a customer." The manager said they try to help out their customers with things like this, while they don't always do the same for random solicitors.

So, add some of your favorite businesses to your list; you never know unless you ask!

I presently struggle with: 3 Days said...

Thanks so much for this. I sent out emails and have had absolutely no respsonses...I will have to try snail mail...check out my blog when you get a chance!