By James V. D’Ambrosio

A few months back I wrote about the importance of keeping direct-mail solicitations brief and to the point. Taking this a step further, below is a sample direct-mail piece aimed at established donors based on a hypothetical nonprofit — The Jim D’Ambrosio Community Center — where I serve as executive director.

Following this template can bolster the effectiveness of direct-mail appeals. Please use it,  adapting copy to accurately reflect your agency and its specific needs. My mission — the purpose of this blog — is to help nonprofits improve their operations through effective communication strategies.


Dear Ms. Dinkins:

As you know, The Jim D’Ambrosio Community Center serves Huntington Township residents with a variety of social service enrichment programs. We are excited and enthusiastic about our mission – serving the needs of those less fortunate and improving their quality of life. One of our programs – Step Up and Face It – provides drug counseling for teens struggling with substance abuse. The following illustrates the dire circumstances facing individuals in the Huntington area that we are helping:

Mrs. Smith is a single parent raising her 14-year-old son, Josh. Her husband, Hank, was killed in a tragic auto accident 6 months ago, and the family is still reeling. Hank’s death hit Josh hard – his grades have been falling and he is becoming withdrawn from family and friends. Recently, Mrs. Smith was shocked to discover that Josh was taking illegal drugs, cocaine and heroine. She knows he needs help, but can’t afford treatment. She lost her job as a mail clerk, her unemployment benefits have run out, and she doesn’t have health insurance. The meager savings she does have are barely enough to cover rent, groceries and car expenses. She fears that if Josh doesn’t get help soon, his problems will worsen and he will become involved with gangs. She doesn’t see a way out.  

Your generosity has helped folks like the Smith’s obtain the services they so desperately need. Step Up and Face It provides individual and group counseling in a supportive environment to address issues and treat substance abuse. But there’s a problem: the tremendous demand for this program has exceeded our resources. We need your help to reach more people in crisis.

A gift of $75 will serve three additional teens for the spring semester. You can count on us to use resources wisely: JDCC allocates 83 percent of revenue for programming; only 17 percent is spent on administration, salaries and fund-raising combined. In fact, there’s a strong possibility that programming will reach 87 percent of revenue by next year.

In light of the above, won’t you help us? Your previous gift of $50 was instrumental in implementing this program last year. Another contribution will allow us to continue providing essential human services for those in need. Thank you for supporting our mission.


Jim D’Ambrosio

Executive Director

QUESTION TO READERS: What do you think of this letter? Are you inclined to fashion your own based on it?

Direct-Mail Letters:Brief is Better

 By James V. D’Ambrosio

Have you ever opened a direct-mail solicitation from a charity only to find a 4-6 page missive you know you won’t read? These letters are destined for the wastebasket. This is  a terrible waste of time, money and effort. No matter how eloquent your letter or noble your cause, if no one reads it, what’s the point?

As the giving season begins (the majority of contributions occur from October- December), it is wise to re-visit direct-mail efforts. In today’s wired world where people are constantly bombarded with messages — Internet, cell phones, texts, instant messaging, e-mail, and 24-hour TV news outlets — attention spans have grown shorter. People simply won’t spend much time reading a letter.

The answer is to be brief. Solicitations must quickly grab a reader’s attention, demonstrate an urgent need, and make the ask. Using a human service agency as an example, the following approach — a concise, one-page one-sided letter — is far more likely to be read and considered:

Opening Paragraph: Briefly describe your organization’s mission/history, emphasizing  dedication to the cause, helping people in need, etc. Then talk about a specific program and briefly describe services provided.

Second Paragraph: Provide a specific example of a person in need (use a generic name),  how difficult things are, and how your agency has positively impacted their life. Imply a strong need for continued intervention to minimize hardship/suffering.

Third Paragraph:  Discuss how donors’ generosity has made a macro impact. Then mention what a specific gift, say $50, will provide. For example, a disaster relief agency might say that $50 provides three meals a day for a month for a family of four left homeless from an earthquake. This provides donors concrete evidence of how their contributions help. You have to paint a clear picture — people won’t know unless you spell it out.   

Closing Paragraph: Emphasize your agency’s efficient use of resources, if indeed, it’s the case. For example, if 90 percent of your revenue goes directly for programming, say so, it’s an excellent selling point. Then make the ask, within the context that a contribution allows your agency to continue providing essential services to those in need.

To be sure, there is no easy way to consistently raise money, especially during today’s prolonged economic uncertainty and limited budgets. Further, nonprofits can ill afford to spend a lot of money on direct-mail campaigns that yield marginal results. Therefore, keeping direct-mail pieces short and compelling — with donors’ interests  in mind — can help maximize returns on direct-mail. The above example can be tailored to your agency’s specific strengths and selling points.   

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