Marketing is key for your nonprofit to expand your support base, raise funds, and connect with donors. Traditionally, letters to donors have been a staple of nonprofit marketing. While most outreach campaigns no longer rely on physical letters alone, they remain an important part of a comprehensive marketing strategy due to the personal touch they provide. In fact, using direct mail and online channels together can increase conversion rates by 28%

As we explore the basics of letter writing to help you build a strong foundation for creating impactful letters, determine how direct mail fits into your nonprofit’s broader marketing strategy. Use letters in combination with other crucial channels such as email, social media, and phone calls, and ensure consistent messaging across all channels to present a cohesive picture of your organization to supporters.

What types of letters should nonprofits write?

It’s important to understand which communication channels best suit the different needs of your organization. Whereas social media provides small, easy engagement opportunities and email excels at informing your supporters of important updates, letters work best for personal requests and developing positive relationships with donors. 

While there are lots of opportunities to write letters depending on the nonprofit and their audience, many organizations focus their efforts on these three core types of letters:

  • Fundraising appeals: Requesting donations from supporters in a letter signed by your organization’s president or founder feels much more personal than a mass email.
  • Acknowledgements: Donation acknowledgements, or donor thank you letters, are vital for retaining your supporters. Personal letters show authentic appreciation for a supporter’s contribution, helping you cultivate the lasting relationships your organization needs to make an impact. 
  • Volunteer thank you letters: Along with thanking donors, thanking your volunteers with a letter is a valuable stewardship opportunity. Make your volunteers feel valued, and they’ll remain loyal supporters who advocate for your nonprofit’s success. Plus, many volunteers get involved in other ways, such as donating and attending events. Building relationships through personal letters boosts their overall engagement in your cause. 

Determine the frequency that you send each of these letters based on how much of an impact you’ll be able to make. 

Benefits of direct mail for nonprofits

Where does direct mail fit in with your online marketing efforts? When used in combination with other channels as part of a multichannel marketing strategy, direct mail can benefit both your fundraising and donor stewardship efforts. 

Here are a few of the pivotal ways direct mail can enhance your strategy:

  • Direct mail solicitation feels more personal than donation requests made through online channels.
  • Letters are more likely to be opened and read than emails lost in full inboxes. 
  • Acknowledgement letters give donors a tangible reminder of your organization and the impact they’ve made.
  • Direct mail can help drive donors to online giving pages and also boost engagement with other marketing materials. You may want to test adding a QR code to your reply form that links to important landing pages on your website. 


If you’re still skeptical about the effectiveness of physical letters, take a look at the numbers. According to 360MatchPro’s fundraising statistics, email open rates for nonprofits hover around 25%. Compare that with direct mail, which 42% of recipients read or scan. Donors are much more likely to read physical letters, meaning you’ll reach a wider audience than you would using email alone.

Best practices for effective letter writing

As you prepare to draft letters with your overall marketing and fundraising goals in mind, follow these best practices.

Personalize every letter

Use personalized letters to build stronger relationships and increase donor retention. Physical letters already feel more personal than emails, but you can make an even greater impact by using your donor data to tailor messages for key donor segments and personalize letters for each individual.

To segment your donors for letter writing, leverage data from your CRM to create groups based on:

  • Giving history: Different giving frequencies and amounts warrant different letter strategies. For example, give first-time donors more information about your organization’s mission, and provide recurring donors with progress reports along with heartfelt thanks. 
  • Relationship to mission: Are you writing to alumni or friends of your institution? Are you writing to grateful patients? Are you writing to program recipients or staff members,  board members, or other volunteers? 
  • Engagement levels: Examine your donors’ event attendance and volunteering histories, then divide donors into segments based on how involved they are overall. Add additional, specific thanks for participating or volunteering in letters to these donors. 

Once you’ve defined segments, tailor messaging in your letters to be relevant to key constituent groups. As feasible, hand-sign letters to major donors —and add handwritten notes —to show how much your organization values them.

Choose straightforward, intentional design

A letter looks like a letter. Your goal is authentic, heartfelt communication. This means it’s crucial to design a straightforward layout. Avoid graphic elements that distract from this authenticity. Intentionally decide how you’ll present each of these basic design elements:

  • Well-designed, unobtrusive letterhead
  • Your nonprofit’s name, logo, and mission statement
  • Easy-to-read font
  • Colors and typography consistent with your branding

Do not overlook the importance of a well-designed reply form. Donors often read or skim your letter, saving only the reply form and reply envelope for purposes of donating. At the time the donor is ready to give, it may be only the reply form that will remind them of the urgency of your appeal. Select every design element carefully, especially images. Ensure that any photos you include actively convey information to donors and work to further your goals for the letter. 

In every letter you write, follow basic nonprofit marketing strategies, such as using storytelling and emotional appeals to connect with your audience. Meyer Partners’ guide to nonprofit storytelling provides tips for creating compelling stories for your letters that inspire donors to take action, such as embedding your organization’s core values into every story. 

With specific, personalized letters, you’ll cultivate stronger relationships with supporters and raise more funds for your efforts.