Your Fundraising Letter: the 3 Pillars of Persuasion

When you sit down to plan out your next fundraising letter, of course you'll remember to write to one donor, have one signer, make it personal (by using a lot of "I, you, we") and keep your paragraphs short and your key ideas and asks highlighted. And still it might not be enough to push your letter from "solid" to "solid gold!" So take another look at your copy and see if you've used arguments from all three Pillars of Persuasion.


The Intellectual Argument is often one of the easiest for people to make. We're used to collecting facts and figures to back up our positions. Numbers can tell a powerful story to many people. After all, it's hard to argue with cold hard statistics.

A letter I received recently from World Wildlife Fund tells me that "The average American uses 350 plastic bags each year." That's nearly one for every day of the year! It goes on to report that "Every year, more than 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and birds die as a result of plastic bags." I -- like probably most of the people WWF mailed to -- really try to limit my use of plastic bags, but as I sit at my computer, I can look over at my recycling area and see a few poking out.

I hope I use fewer than the average 35o bags per year, but I know that if 100,000 wild animals are being killed by plastic bags, then using any bags at all is too many. Those numbers convinced me.

But you can't rely on numbers alone.


When you're asking people to part with their hard-earned cash, you have to move them emotionally. One easy way to do that is to paint a picture of the problem they're helping to solve. Animal rights groups can describe the deplorable conditions for animals raised on factory farms. Environmental groups can show the suffering of children with pollution-induced asthma or the rapid disappearance of ancient stands of old-growth trees.

Tell a story related to your mission, include a photo of someone impacted by your work, or talk about a moment that moved you.

Make your audience feel the importance of your cause and the passion of everyone in your organization to solve it.


Most of us believe we are moral people, and your direct mail package can give your donors an easy way to exercise their moral muscles. Remind them that their support places them on the side of Right. Knowing that by giving to your organization they are in fact standing up for their principles is a huge motivator for many people.

Which brings me to the silent 4th pillar:

Know your audience.

Some audiences respond more consistently to well-reasoned arguments and solid facts, while others are consistently swayed by a moral ask, and still others care little for facts and respond solely to emotional pleas. Test different ways of framing your ask to see how your audience responds.