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How community and residentsí groups can write a winning fundraising letter when there isnít much spare cash around (01 Dec 18)

Try to sound like a dedicated bunch of ordinary people who care deeply. Because unless that comes across, youíve got no hope

We have a couple of students Kara and Sarah who work for us in the summer. They are great as they are very hardworking, have loads of energy and most importantly for me just get on with things.

They are also remarkably good at picking up on what interests and motivates people, which is absolutely crucial to the day to day marketing of our courses.

So when Kara sent me a fundraising letter that she had written for her university squash club I was surprised that it wasnít that great. Then I suddenly thought, fundraising is actually THE most difficult thing to do.

Thatís because the benefit you are selling is not obvious.

Youíre not saying, ďthis will make your life easier, or do some thing better for YOU. Itís all about other people.

It got me thinking about what makes or breaks those hundreds of begging letters that land on donorís desks everyday.

But itís not those professionally written letters from charities that we all get that I am thinking of (many of which are not very good actually). Itís those community and residentsí groups who make one off applications to local companies and organisations.

Theirs is one of the trickiest and most difficult funding applications that can be made, as was Karaís.

Tricky because unlike applications to the national lottery or the major charitable giving trusts no one is obliged to even read your application. And difficult because there are no standard forms to follow and fill in. Instead itís all down to your ability to put across a convincing case in a letter.

And in todayís frightful economic climate an awful lot of community groups are chasing a decreasing amount of money. So to stand a chance you really have to have your wits about you and you have to use every trick in the book.

But letís first look at the letter that Kara sent me.

Dear Sir or Madam,

Iím the Squash Captain for Winchester College at the University of York. The reason I am writing to you is because I need your help.

Currently our college has to pay for our squash training, but with limited funds, sometimes that cost falls to my team and me. So Iím asking for only £80 per term, or just £240 for the entire year to pay for my teamís training. The money would go straight to the Universityís Sports Centre, where they would hold it until it was needed.

But whatís in it for you? Aside from our undying gratitude, we would wear your companyís logo on our polo-shirts and give you regular updates on how the team is getting on. We have college squash matches every week, so every other college at York would see your logo on our t-shirts, giving you maximum exposure with minimum effort.

I do hope you take me up on my offer. My team and I love playing squash, and itís a shame that insufficient funds can come between us and a good training session.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Kara Daniels

PS. Please feel free to give me a ring on 07754 123456 or email me on kara103@hotmail.co.uk if you have any questions about my team or our training.

So what was wrong with the letter?

1. NEVER, NEVER write to Dear Sir or Madam.

If you canít be bothered to find out who I am, why should I give a hoot about you?

A few minutes research on the phone will get you the name of the person to write to and increase your chances of success.

2. It is far too short. How can you convince someone to part with their money in four short paragraphs? Itís not enough time to develop a compelling argument as to why they should contribute.

3. She starts off by talking about herself. I donít know who she is Ė and I donít care. The world is full of people who want money.

4. The tone of the letter is wrong. Letters asking for funds need to be emotional, and a few emotional words like ďyour helpĒ, ďundying gratitudeĒ, ďloveĒ donít add up to emotion. And the phrase ďundying gratitudeĒ is not emotional, itís a flippant half-joke.

5. There is no sense of urgency or seriousness. Itís very hard to read her letter and feel either that itís a matter of life or death or that the donor has to come to the rescue now. You are left wondering if it really matters if they donít contribute.

So what should Kara have done? Here are some tips that would have given her a much better chance of raising the money (which would never be easy, anyhow).

Please pass them on if you find them useful.

Firstly never, ever forget that you are writing a sales letter
The most important thing to remember is that you are writing a good old fashioned sales letter. So the same principles of first getting and then keeping the readerís attention still apply.

Donít worry if your letter looks a bit long. The more you tell, the more you sell. You have to put your case fully and answer all their concerns as to why they should give you money, so if you end up with a two or even three page letter donít worry.

What makes you different?
Try to think of something unusual about your group and what it wants to do. Donít forget that you are trying to get the readerís attention.

Find out about the people you want money from
Do some research.. Find out the name of the person you should be writing to. Find out what concerns them. Read anything that you can use in the letter Ė e.g.

ďI am writing because on 3rd February your chief executive said you are committed to improving fitness levels ...Ē

Make your letter as personal as you can
Why not try handwriting it? You are trying to get their attention remember. If you do make sure that your handwriting is legible, because you will be shooting yourself in the foot if they canít read it. If you type it try handwriting in bold blue pen the salutation and your signature.

People give to people, not to projects
It really helps if you can feature some real people in your application. Enclose some photographs of the people who will be affected by your bid.

Emotion is very important in your letter
Itís worth remembering that the most successful charity letters have been those that recognize that people give from their hearts, not their heads.

Try to introduce a sense of urgency
Explain to your reader why itís so important that you get the funds quickly. If there isnít an urgency about your project introduce it.

Ask for a specific sum
Tell them how much you need and donít just ask them to give generously. Nor should you be backward about asking for money and always ask for more than you think they are likely to give. Give some figures which show why you are asking for the amount that you are asking for. For example it costs £2,500 every 3 months to keep the youth club open. Always tell people what their money will do.

Donít be flash
Remember that non one likes to see their money taken up by expensive administrative overheads or glossy publicity. Keep your proposal looking simple.

If the topic of fundraising interests you why not run an in house course? Email me at rod@rodlaird.co.uk


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