Attracting donations is a prime concern for nonprofit organizations and civic projects. An effective, professional donation-request letter is a necessary tool for fund-raising and can help increase the profile of your organization or group. Researching possible donors and building a database of names and organizations is one key to success, but the ability to write a donation-request letter has an even greater impact on successful fund-raising.
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Research potential donors via the Internet. Research small companies in addition to large foundations and grant-making organizations. Sometimes a small local company will assist you in reaching your goal. Foundations have a rigorous application process, a time line for grants and substantial competition for available funds, but a simple appeal to a civic-minded local firm may yield a surprisingly generous donation.
Find the appropriate contact person. Address your letter to a real person who is in a position to authorize a donation. Beginning your letter with “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Country Market” stands little chance of attracting the attention of the right staff member. Staff names may not appear on company websites. A discreet phone call to a receptionist or staffer, asking whom to contact for donations, may get you the name you need.
Structure the letter properly. Begin your letter with a vivid and readable description of your organization’s work, and highlight a recent success story. Continue with a few general statistics to impress the contact person with your organization’s efficiency and effectiveness. Next, describe in full the current project or effort for which a donation is needed and who will benefit. Include all contact information, including telephone, fax and email, and end by inviting the person to contact you if any further information is needed. Finally, circulate the letter to colleagues for proofreading and suggestions.
Request in-kind donations. Many potential donors don’t have cash to give, but will provide in-kind donations, such as materials, printing, loan of staff members as volunteers or space. A concrete monetary value can be assessed for many in-kind donations to make the donation tax-deductible for the donor. In-kind donations can give donors more of a sense of participation, and some are reluctant to simply give money.
Follow up with a phone call to the contact person within a few days of sending the letter. Ask if the letter was received and whether he might be able to help. If the answer is no, be gracious and thank him for his time (he may become a valuable contact later). If there is interest, communicate how much money or in-kind support you are seeking. Even if a donor can help with only a small portion of your need, accept the offer and thank her for her support. Invite donors to attend or participate in your project.
Keep careful records of donations and send thank-you letters. Donors often are willing to contribute again if they are shown how their contribution was put to use. Follow-up letters can assist in this effort. Ask if there is anything you can do to help them as a return for the favor.
Once you create a successful donation-request letter, save it as a template for future use. However, don't send the identical letter to the same person next year.
Keep track of personnel changes in donating organizations.
Most local organizations have a limit to what they can give, so don't go back to the same organization too often. It can be better to have 10 donors contributing small amounts than one footing the whole bill, in case the one organization is unexpectedly unable to help next time.