Many people who start fundraising for the first time, and even people who have participated for years, often believe everyone is spending so much money during the holidays, it isn’t feasible for people to want to make a donation. People are busy, overwhelmed, and already strapped for cash – maybe it’s best to just wait until January. 

Right? WRONG. 

The majority of charitable giving in the U.S. happens between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. In reality, the holidays are actually the BEST time of year, because people are so freely spending, and comfortable with it.  This is also the time of year when people are most comfortable in making larger donations than they may normally give. You’ve probably already received several “year end” donation requests from many different charities. Many of your friends and family who you will be seeking donations from are also getting these same appeals.  Your fundraising letter should therefore stand out. What’s more, if you wait until after the first of year, you will be sending your fundraising letter just when everyone begins to receive their credit card statements and see what their holiday expenditures amount to.

So now you’re thinking, “Holy dollar bills, Batman, I need to get my letter out tonight!”  Well, before you stop reading and begin writing, you may want to know a few general “do’s and don’ts” of writing a fundraising letter.  Believe it or not, there is a “wrong way” to write one.  When we say “wrong way” we mean to say there are some things you can say, or not say, in your letter that may potentially reduce your overall fundraising success.  Take a look at these four simple tips:

Send your letter to everyone – When we say everyone, we really mean EVERYONE.  Don’t censor your contact list and assume someone will not give, either because you haven’t had contact with them in a year, their income level, financial status, political affiliation, or religious beliefs.  Allow the potential donor to say no for themselves, and just accept hearing “no” now and again is part of the process.  Every year many runners are surprised by donations from people they didn’t think would give.

Mention your goal & what it will accomplish – Let donors know that you “want to raise” a certain amount instead of that you “have to raise” a certain amount (say, $500 for that free race entry?). Show your passion for the cause! Let people know what your goal will accomplish – what will their donation do?  Include a story about how a wheelchair will allow a young person to go to school, or a parent to go outside and play with their child, or a grandparent to visit their family. You could say, “In order to share the gift of mobility, I’ve committed to raising $3,000 for Free Wheelchair Mission. My goal will help provide independence and dignity to someone with a disability who otherwise could not afford it. We are providing this by providing them with their very own wheelchair.”

Establish mini deadlines for each fundraising appeal you send – Every year participants send out their letter, and oftentimes they receive nothing, or very few donations, and they wonder why.  Typically it’s because people often give donors a deadline to donate by a specific date in the future (like Race Day, perhaps?), and they don’t realize that an extended deadline can impede their fundraising.  When you send out your fundraising letter asking for donations for a later event donors are naturally inclined to say “I have plenty of time do this.”  Setting up mini deadlines for each fundraising letter will encourage donors to make their gift sooner.  Building on the previous example you could say, “For my part in spreading the gift of mobility, I have committed myself to raising $3000 for the Free Wheelchair Mission. Although the race isn’t for a few months, I’ve committed myself to raising half by the end of the year. Will you be one of the people that will help me accomplish this?  My goal will help provide independence and dignity to someone with a disability who otherwise could not afford it.”

Ask for a specific amount– A common ineffective practice is not asking for a specific dollar amount.   For example, “Any amount you can give will make a difference”.  Although this is true, and should be mentioned, it can hurt you if mentioned alone.  Ask for a specific amount, and only mention this one dollar amount.  Also, you should be asking for an amount that may sound big, but will sound smaller by how you ask them to give.  Instead of asking to make their gift all at once, ask for them to do it monthly payments, or by pledging to give a percentage in monthly until the race.  Donors will to go above and beyond what they would have thought of giving on their own, but usually only consider doing this if it presented to them.  You may feel like this is all a little demanding and that you will lose a donation because a donor does not want to give the amount you ask for.  Keep in mind this is not being demanding.   Instead you are only asking that they consider an idea, from which they will ultimately decide how much they want to give.  Lastly don’t forget to tie the donation they will make back to your original goal.  To put this together, you could say “To start my fundraising, my best friend Scott has made a tax-deductible gift of $25 a month for 6 months, and I am asking that you consider matching that gift.  Other donation levels, higher and lower, are also available, and all donations, no matter how large or small, will help provide that same wonderful gift of mobility.”

Happy fundraising!

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