5 Elements of a Magnetic Appeal Letter

I was new to university fundraising when I traveled to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the mid 00’s. At the invitation of Robin Wray, the deputy director of Annual Giving, I met with her team, one by one, in an office on Charles Street across from Hopkins’ Homewood Campus.

At day’s end, Robin arrived in the small conference room to see how it went and brief me on “The 5,” her nuts and bolts for a magnetic, gift-pulling appeal letter. The simple formula I scrawled on my notepad that day has been a fundraising workhorse for dozens of projects, signers and audiences.

A few years later, Robin took a job at the University of Delaware (her alma mater), where she still advocates the five-paragraph letter. Paraphrased from one of her more recent handouts, following are the five elements.

Continue reading “5 Elements of a Magnetic Appeal Letter”


The Power of First Person

If handled correctly, first person has an authenticity and power that’s often absent in today’s hyped-up communications.

Here’s the opening of a fundraising letter I wrote this week. The signer will be a grad school alum, and I strived to keep the message straightforward and dignified, which was how she struck me in the telephone interview:

This year marks my 50th anniversary as a graduate of the (prestigious university). The master’s degree I earned in 1958 launched my career as a junior high school counselor in the city schools, where I remained for 23 years until my retirement. My graduate degree had a lasting impact on me and those I counseled.

I have made a financial gift to the school each of the last 50 years. When asked why I am such a loyal supporter, I say I simply feel it is my place to give back …

And a paragraph later, the ask …

I ask that you please join me by making your next gift today.

I love first person. You transmit the thoughts and feelings of a real person as honestly as you can, with the right amount of persuasion thrown in.

Try it in B2B copywriting, blog posts, fundraising and other communications. It works.