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While the primary objective of an appeal letter is to encourage someone to make a donation, written communication also serves, just as importantly, to build relationships with prospective and existing donors.

Everyday use of language is often ingrained as nothing more than a habit, but when writing an appeal letter, it’s critical that charities understand how the words they use can impact readers.

Here are some common mistakes made when writing appeal letters. Are you guilty of these?

Failing to use the donor’s name

Nothing forges genuine connection more than using someone’s name.

Make sure your database is up-to-date with names spelt correctly. Use the person’s name around three times in the letter. Firstly, in the salutation, second when you thank the donor for previous support and third in your ask.

The 2018 Global Trends in Giving Report mentions that the majority of donors (74%), prefer to be thanked for their support by email. A personalised thank you before the personalised ask causes the donor to psychologically feel more involved in the project and therefore more compelled to give.

If a donor has a nickname that they prefer to be known by, make a note of this and make sure that name rather than their first name is selected during segmentation.

Failing to use emotive language

Professor Jen Shang, Philanthropic Psychologist and Director of Research at the University of Plymouth Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy has focused her research on understanding how a person’s identity can be enriched by giving. Her book Fundraising Principles and Practice co-authored with Adrian Sargeant and associates contains a wealth of information on the use of language. As an example, there are certain adjectives people like to be linked with including ‘kind’, ‘compassionate’, ‘honest’, ‘generous’, ‘fair’, and ‘helpful’. Weaving these words into your ask will make success more likely.

Inadvertently using derogatory terminology

Gender bias

Once you’ve crafted an appeal letter go through it carefully highlighting any words or ideas that are gender-biased. For example, why should a golf day fundraiser be geared towards men? If you’re appealing for volunteers to renovate a crèche, remember that women are perfectly capable of using power tools too. For this reason, try to avoid words like workmanship and manpower.

Discriminatory language

An appeal to raise funds for the ‘mentally ill’ or ‘disabled’ may get tossed or deleted simply because the reader was offended by the terminology used. Sensitivity on issues of abilities, race, and economic status will gain far more funds for the people you are trying to help.


While it may be tempting to adopt a less formal approach, do remember donors trust charities to be run in a professional manner, so using familiar words like ‘gir’l, ‘darl’, and ‘honey’, while gender-biased are also overly familiar.

Appeals must strike a balance between professional and endearing to build trust while connecting with an audience.

Using shock tactics and horror stories

Striking a balance between troubling issues and what the charity has done to put things right is essential.

The Giving Report mentions that 54% of donors in Australia and Oceania say they are likely to give repeatedly to an organisation if they receive regular communication about the impact of their donations. Appeals using highly emotive language alone don’t have good results, donors also need to be given hope and the chance to enrich their own identities, so use positive words to show the difference their gift has made.

Misuse of the word ‘small’

According to Professor Shang, if you ask for a small donation, donors may feel that their contribution may be too insignificant and are more likely to give as much as they can.

However, never thank someone for a small donation, always thank them by showing how their contribution has made a difference. Remember, for whatever reason, a donor has given you as much as they can in that instance so to them, their donation isn’t small and it treating it as if it is will leave them feeling as though their contribution isn’t good enough.

Knowing your audience and using language to build a connection empowers donors and can encourage them to give to their maximum capacity. In direct contradiction, misuse of language, no matter how innocently can damage relationships just as easily, so choose your words carefully!