How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters


Whether holding a bake sale or raising $1,000,000—fundraising tips for everyone

For many volunteers and other nonprofessionals, writing letters of appeal can be confusing and laborious. In How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters, Mal Warwick—the nation's premier direct mail expert—shows everyone what makes the best letters work. With real-world examples, illustrations, and case studies that reflect the latest research findings on how to secure gifts from today's donors, ...

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Whether holding a bake sale or raising $1,000,000—fundraising tips for everyone

For many volunteers and other nonprofessionals, writing letters of appeal can be confusing and laborious. In How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters, Mal Warwick—the nation's premier direct mail expert—shows everyone what makes the best letters work. With real-world examples, illustrations, and case studies that reflect the latest research findings on how to secure gifts from today's donors, Warwick provides both general advice about effective mail strategies and specific guidance on the details of a mail campaign. His step-by-step model for writing a successful appeal walks readers through each stage of the process, from laying the groundwork to thanking donors. The book includes such valuable resources as style tips, advice for overcoming writer's block, pointers for effective graphics and packaging, and an extensive collection of model letters.

Mal Warwick (Berkeley, CA) is a renowned fundraising consultant and a leading thinker and practitioner in the field. He has written numerous books on fundraising, including The Five Strategies for Fundraising Success (0-7879-4994-9) (Jossey-Bass).

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
According to this practical handbook, a "fundraising letter is like a personal visit." Writing from extensive experience in guiding companies and organizations through fund-raising efforts, Warwick offers detailed advice and analysis along with copious examples and instructive case studies. Warwick, who is both personal and hard-hitting, suggesting a cross between a preacher and a salesman, views fund-raising by mail as a three-stage process. "First, donors are acquired....Then, they are converted into repeat donors...finally donors may be upgraded into higher levels of generosity and commitment." The well-organized instructions include the planning of whole campaigns, the phrasing of appeals, composition and punctuation, information packets, and follow-up. In a time when fund-raising is perquisite to nearly all professions and organizations, library managers of all types as well as library users should find this both fascinating and worthwhile.-Margaret Bush, Simmons Coll., Boston
A guide to writing fund raising letters, covering donor motivations and perceptions, nuts and bolts techniques and rules, and writing for seven different fund raising purposes, including recruiting new members, acknowledging a gift, and seeking an annual gift. Includes a writer's toolbox of leads, teasers, and ways to begin and end a fund raising letter. This revised edition is reorganized and includes new examples. Warwick is a founder or cofounder of four companies that provide fund raising and marketing services to nonprofit clients. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787956523
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Series: Mal Warwick Fundraising Series
  • Edition description: REVISED & UPDATED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 8.54 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Mal Warwick, consultant, author, and public speaker, is the founder of Mal Warwick Associates and three related companies that provide a wide range of fundraising and marketing services to nonprofitclients throughout North America. Warwick has written or edited 18 books including Revolution in the Mailbox, The Five Strategiesfor Fundraising Success, and Fundraising on the Internet. He teaches fundraising throughout the world and chairs the Global Resource Alliance, which promotes civil society worldwide. Find more information on Mal and his books at and

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Read an Excerpt

How To Write Successful Fundraising Letters

By Mal Warwick

John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Copyright © 2001 Mal Warwick
All right reserved.

ISBN: 078795652X

Chapter One

Preface to the Revised Edition

Just in case you're curious how this revised edition is different from the first, I'll get that out of the way right off the bat:

• The book's contents have been completely reorganized into a more
logical and smoothly flowing sequence (thanks to Johanna Vondeling,
my eagle-eyed editor at Jossey-Bass).

• I've pored over every sentence, cutting a word here or there or
adding some new insight that flitted through my mind.

• I've added fresh examples and some carefully selected new material.

And here's what I did not do in producing this revised edition: I did not add a whole lot of words. Readers of the first edition told me that one of that book's greatest virtues was its compact size and the ease with which they could refer to key points whenever the need arose. I chose not to run the risk of burying those key points in verbiage or superfluous examples. Besides, although I've been regarded as a radical most of my life, I'm a very conservative radical; I don't favor change for the sake of change alone. So if a paragraph I wrote for the first edition or an example I used struck me as equally relevant and instructive today, I left it alone. New isn't always better.

How This Book Is Organized

This revised edition is structured in four parts.

Part One begins where the writing of any fundraising appeal should begin: peering into the mind of the donor. These first five chapters examine the stuff of which successful fundraising is made:

• An appreciation for the broad range of motives that lead people to
contribute money to good causes and important institutions

• An understanding of the dynamics in the relationship between the
fundraiser and the donor

• Insight into the ways that donors view the fundraising letters they

• The characteristics of an effective fundraising letter

To put this understanding into a truly practical context, Part One concludes with a paragraph-by-paragraph tour through a successful appeal.

Part Two looks at the nuts and bolts. We'll approach the task of writing a fundraising letter from a strictly practical, down-to-earth perspective. In successive chapters in this part, we'll cover:

• What to do before you sit down to write a fundraising appeal

• The nine steps I recommend following in crafting a fundraising

• The eight concrete cardinal rules that determine whether your
appeal will be a success (or a dud), along with a self-assessment
form that will help you evaluate the likely effectiveness of a
fundraising letter in the light of these rules

• The practical guidelines of style and syntax I urge you to follow
when you're writing a fundraising appeal-or, for that matter, any
other prose that's meant to persuade the reader to act

The seven chapters in Part Three take you on a walking tour through the thickets of fundraising, visiting each of the most common types of fundraising letters to examine their unique characteristics and distinctive demands. In the course of Part Three, we'll study letters designed to do the following:

• Recruit a new member or donor

• Acknowledge a gift from a new donor

• Appeal for a special (additional) gift

• Request a year-end contribution

• Solicit a high-dollar-amount gift

• Persuade a donor to send a bigger gift

• Seek an annual gift

Part Four is where I invite you to steal my ideas as you might see fit. These resources are for your unregulated use-a bag full of treatments for the dread disease of writer's block:

• Sixty successful outer envelope teasers

• Fifty-four strong leads for fundraising letters

• Ninety ways to use the word you in a fundraising letter

• Sixty-three ways to handle awkward copywriting transitions

• Forty-one powerful ways to end a fundraising letter

• Fifty-eight ways to start a P.S. in a fundraising letter

• Fifteen ways how not to get results from your writing

• Ten other books to help you write successful fundraising letters

How You Can Use This Book

I'll feel fulfilled as a writer only if you absorb every word in this book with the loving care I invested in it. On a more practical level, however, I'm confident you will find How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters useful in at least three additional ways (as some readers of the first edition have told me they did):

• As a source of examples and inspiration when a writing task comes
due and your mind won't stop thinking about everything other than

• As a quick-and-easy guide to the distinctive types of fundraising letters
(found in Part Three)

• As a collection of crib sheets (the resources in Part Four) that will
help you resolve some of those thorny letter-writing challenges

In any case, please use this book however you see fit. I wrote it for you.


The conventions of the publishing industry conspire to give the impression that one person alone writes a book. While there may be circumstances in which that's true, it's certainly not the case with this book. A number of people played roles in the conception and preparation of this book.

Stephen Hitchcock, as president of Mal Warwick & Associates, suggested I build a book around EditEXPRESS, a letter-editing service I offered from 1990 to 2000. This book has become far more than that. Nonetheless, Steve's imprint is visible on every page. His decade-old list of "reasons people give" was the starting point for my work on Chapter One. More important, Steve has been my writing mentor for more than a dozen years. Much of what he has taught me about writing for results is reflected in the following pages. He reviewed every chapter, page by page, painstakingly editing the most challenging parts. Also he has played a major role in freeing me from the burdens of the day-to-day management of Mal Warwick & Associates, so that I was able to undertake the time-consuming project of writing this book.

I'm indebted to the following EditEXPRESS clients for their gracious permission to reproduce here the work I performed for them:

Co-op America, Washington, D.C. (Alisa Gravitz, Denise Hamler, Erin Gorman)

Peace Action, Washington, D.C. (Peter Deccy, Monica Green, Carole Watson)

Three of my clients insisted on anonymity, so I've removed any evidence of their identity from the case studies and examples of my work for them.

With one exception, every letter included as an example in Chapters Ten through Sixteen was drafted by someone else. In many cases I don't know the identity of the author. I urge you to recognize that it was not I. Most of the time, my contribution was limited to playing the critic. (That's the easy part.)

The central theme of this book is that there are different types of fundraising letters and that each type presents unique challenges to the writer. To dramatize the unique aspects of each type of fundraising letter, I lead off the seven chapters in Part Two with illustrations from one nonprofit organization with an extensive and well-organized direct mail fundraising program. I wanted to make clear that a single charity may indeed need to write letters of all the types described in this book. To fill that bill, I turned to Bread for the World in Washington, D.C., a client of Mal Warwick & Associates since 1989. I owe special thanks to David Beckmann, Joel Underwood, Alice Benson, Diane Hunt, and their colleagues for their generosity and cooperativeness in granting permission for their materials to be reproduced in this book.

The lists in the resources in Part Four represent some of the best work of my colleagues at Mal Warwick & Associates. Significantly, ideas were suggested by staff involved in almost every phase of the creative and productive process: Stephen Hitchcock, Bill Rehm, Julie Levak, Deborah Agre, Judy Reimann, Marsha Mathews, Lissa Rosenbloom, Julie Weidenbach, Cherie Chavez, Christina Chavez, Sheila Bell, and Ramona Allen. Julie Levak and Deborah Agre won a free lunch at Berkeley's famed Chez Panisse Café for contributing more ideas to the lists than anyone else: seventy-one between the two. (You see? Writing fundraising letters can be fun!)

The freelance copywriting team of Deborah Block and Paul Karps generously took time out from a particularly busy season of their work on bread-and-butter fundraising projects to review the first draft of the manuscript. They paid particular attention to the case studies. Because of their sharp eyes and extensive knowledge of fundraising letters, they uncovered a great many inconsistencies. Their detailed critique helped me enormously in transforming a bunch of unrelated assignments performed over a three-year period into this book. I'm greatly indebted to them.

This book would not have seen the light of day without the help I received from Ina Cooper and Ramona Allen at Mal Warwick & Associates. Ina served as production coordinator, and Ramona faced almost daily assignments to scan or transcribe text and prepare seemingly endless rounds of photocopies. The hours they invested in this project may have equaled my own, and I'm very grateful to them.

Two other people have gone to great lengths to save me from my own excesses in preparing this revised edition. My editor, Johanna Vondeling, has been an unfaltering source of shrewd judgment about the structure and flow of this book. It is now much the stronger as a result of her efforts. Her fine editorial eye and sensitivity to style and syntax have made this job a great deal easier and more enjoyable for me.

My assistant at Mal Warwick & Associates, Kimberely Araña, cheerfully endured the deadly combination of my erratic schedule and the many, and often unpredictable, demands on her time that this project has occasioned. Her patience, thoroughness, and commonsense organizing skills helped keep me steady through this sometimes unsteadying process.

I owe special thanks, too, to the many readers of the first edition who encouraged me to think that this book was worth every bit of the time and effort I put into it. I hope you too will find this book to be helpful in your continuing effort to raise money for good causes and enduring institutions. I wish you the very best of luck.

Berkeley, California Mal Warwick December 2000


Excerpted from How To Write Successful Fundraising Letters by Mal Warwick Copyright © 2001 by Mal Warwick
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Motivating Your Audience.
Why People Respond to Fundraising Letters.
How a Fundraising Letter Is Like a Personal Visit.
What Donors Really Think About Fundraising Letters.
Characteristics of an Effective Fundraising Letter.
A Leisurely Tour Through One Successful Appeal.
The Letter Writer's Plan of Action.
What to Do Before You Write Any Fundraising Letter.
Eight Steps Toward Successful Fundraising Letters.
The Cardinal Rules of Fundraising Letters.
You're Writing for Results-Not for a Pulitzer Prize.
Customizing Your Appeal.
Recruiting New Donors: Starting Intimate Conversations with Strangers.
Welcoming New Donors: Treating People Like Part of the Family.
Appealing for Special Gifts: Bringing Your Case Down to Earth.
Asking for Year-End Contributions: Making the Most of the Holiday Spirit.
Soliciting High-Dollar Gifts: Framing the Case for Major Contributions.
Going for Bigger Gifts: Persuading Donors to Make an Extra Commitment.
Seeking Annual Gifts: Building Long-Term Loyalty, One Year at a Time.
Thanking Your Donors: Friend-Raising Before Fundraising.
The Letter Writer's Toolbox.
Sixty Successful Outer Envelope Teasers.
Fifty-Four Strong Leads for Fundraising Letters.
Ninety Ways to Use the Word "You" in a Fundraising Letter.
Sixty-Three Ways to Handle Awkward Copywriting Transitions.
Forty-One Powerful Ways to End a Fundraising Letter.
Fifty-Eight Ways to Start a P.S. in a Fundraising Letter.
Fifteen Ways How Not to Get Results.
Ten Other Books to Help You Write Successful Fundraising Letters.
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