Jeff’s sure-fire outline for effective direct mail fundraising

I recently read a piece of fundraising writing advice: Start with an outline. At first I scoffed. It seemed like an unnecessary extra step. Then I realized, I often use an outline.

It’s just that I’ve been doing this so long the outline is mostly in my head. But it took a long time to get there.

Here’s an outline I often use for writing a direct mail piece. It’s just the letter, and it’s about right for a four-page letter. It would be very tight on anything shorter than that, and it might call for a few added points if the letter is longer than four pages.

There are many other possible outlines. This is just one. Take it as a starting point. I can’t guarantee it’ll give you a winner, but I can say it has given me winners.

Fundraising Letter Outline

  • Introduction: why you’re writing to the donor.
  • Ask. (Short version.)
  • Description of the problem.
  • Why the donor’s gift is needed now.
  • Ask. (Extended version.)
  • A story that demonstrates the need, using the life of one person as an example. (One to four paragraphs.)
  • Ask.
  • Word.jpgcture of the change that’ll happen when the donor gives.
  • Ask.
  • Reminder that this cause is closely connected with the donor’s values.
  • Ask.
  • Conclusion: thank the donor for caring.
  • P.S. Ask again.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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