How to Write a Winning Fundraising Appeal

Writing a fundraising appeal letter can be tricky. It’s not easy to translate the passion you have for your cause into words that produce results.

I created my A.P.P.E.A.L.S. Fundraising Writing Framework with you, the busy nonprofit professional, in mind. I wish I had something like this when I set out to write my first few appeals. I could have saved time and generated more donations. But you get to skip to the head of the class!With my framework, you can write an effective appeal and save years of frustration.

At the end of this blog post, I’ll give you the link to the workbook for my step-by-step writing system, template, and a sample letter. Starting today, you can write heart-tugging, donor-centric, money-raising appeals.

So, roll up your sleeves – and get ready to write perfectly appealing appeal letters that will bring you more donations, more supporters… more often.


Decide who will be your audience for your appeal. Write an authentic lead that grabs their ATTENTION and connects them to the cause.

Who is your audience? You need to know to whom you are writing so that you can tailor your message to them… and earn their attention. Are they repeat donors? Are they prospective donors? Are they lapsed donors? By sending an appropriate

message to each audience, your letters will be authentic because your messaging will ring true.


  1. THE LEAD: The lead is the first part of the body of your letter. The purpose of the lead is to grab your readers’ attention, guiding them to commit to reading more. Consider using a story teaser, a reminder of your readers’ association to your organization, or a statement that elicits curiosity.
  2. THE JOHNSON BOX: A Johnson Box is a brief piece of text – sometimes boxed – featured at the top of direct mail letters. Like the lead, its purpose is to entice readers to continue reading. Because of its placement, the Johnson Box is one of the first things people look at in a letter. It’s prime real estate!

P is for PROBLEM

State a solvable PROBLEM and explain why it’s urgent. Ask for the gift (1st time).

The problem you put in front of your readers must be a winnable battle… otherwise they will feel defeated even before you make your case for support. Reassure your readers that this problem can be solved with their help.

Ask for a gift. Consider framing your first “ask” by offering an opportunity to invest in saving, changing, or enriching lives. Use language that is inviting and friendly. Then, your readers need to know why they should make a gift now. Other charities are asking for money, too, so why should your request rise to the top of their giving list? What’s the urgency?


Describe what the gift makes POSSIBLE.

What are the things a donation today makes possible for those whom your organization serves? The only way your readers will know if your cause aligns with their values is if you tell them exactly what their gifts will accomplish. This is not the time for a laundry list. Pick 1, 2, or 3 things their gifts will pay for.

This is your opportunity to let your readers know how their hard-earned money will solve the problem at hand.

Emphasize the benefits of the work, not just the work itself. For example, at an animal shelter, veterinary care for dogs is the work. Dogs living happy and healthy lives is the benefit. The distinction is key!

E is for ELEVATE

ELEVATE the consequence of ignoring the problem. Then ELEVATE the status of your readers for understanding the truth. Ask for the gift (2nd time).

Merely explaining what donors’ gifts make possible is not enough. You also need to elevate the consequence of not solving the problem. Although this step is often neglected, it is critically important. You must raise awareness of the real cost of doing nothing.

Next, elevate your readers’ status by making clear that they are exceptional for grasping the reality of the problem. You want them to nod their heads and affirm, “Yes, that describes me exactly! I’m needed to solve this problem!”

Ask for the gift and be grateful. Finally, hint that a story is coming.


Share an ANECDOTE detailing the transformation of someone helped thanks to donors’ gifts. Ask for the gift (3rd time).

The way to create the change you want to see is by bringing others with you on your journey. Stories are “sticky” and help us make sense of the world. Tell an anecdote to convey the transformation – detailing both the before and after states – of one person (or animal) you helped because of donors’ gifts.

Telling the story of one (as opposed to many) will help readers envision making a difference, one person at a time. This provides a compelling path to donation.

L is for LEVEL UP

LEVEL UP your offer to include a unique way to make donors feel extra special. Link your cause to your readers’ values and express gratitude. Ask for the gift (4th time).

Give those who might be on the fence of indecision a friendly nudge to help them level up!


By sweetening the deal – by appealing to your readers’ extrinsic motivation – by providing your version of “but wait, there’s more!” For example, offer a bonus for donating: a membership card, an invitation to a private social media group, a discount on an upcoming event, or a piece of exclusive content. The bonus need not cost you a dime, but it must have value for your readers.

You have already helped your readers to become emotionally and morally ready to donate. Your level-up should help them to become intellectually prepared as well. It should make a strong closing argument to their rational side — the final piece of the psychological puzzle. They have been flirting with YES. Give them one more reason to embrace her.

Once you’ve done all this, your readers should be thinking, “I understand the problem, I feel the urgency, and I know I’m needed.”

Think about it: Are donors better off after they donate to your organization?

As you strive to make your donors truly satisfied with their decision to give, think about how each donation will contribute to the donor’s well-being.

The goal is to offer donors ways to connect more deeply with you and the people their gifts help. Leveling up will help facilitate strong, lasting connections.


In the P.S., summarize the giving opportunity. Ask for the gift (5th time), provide the steps for making an immediate donation, and emphasize what their money will accomplish.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Professor Siegfried Vögele studied how people interact with letters they receive in the mail.Prof. Vögele found that the P.S. is one of the first parts readers glance at before deciding whether to spend any more time looking at an appeal message. So, don’t let this space go to waste.

In your P.S.:

  1. Restate the giving opportunity.
  2. Tell the readers how to make a gift.
  3. Highlight an intriguing benefit of what their donation will do.

Your free workbook for the A.P.P.E.A.L.S. fundraising writing step-by-step system, template, and sample letter is ready for you to download:

Click here to get your free fundraising writing workbook now

Use this resource as a fill-in-the-blanks template or a guide to inspire you to craft any appeal letter your organization needs. Each step of the framework has an example that reinforces my teaching. In the end, I put all the pieces together for a complete sample appeal letter.

May all your future appeal letters bring you more donations, more supporters, more often.

John Haydon