4 Things a Cover Letter Is (And 1 Thing It Isn’t)

In her continuing series, we welcome special guest, Stelter Editorial Director, Katie Parker.

Done right, an 8.5×11-inch piece of paper manages an incredible amount of work in your marketing communications. Here are a few powerful things a cover letter can do for your fundraising goals…and one thing it can’t.

A cover letter IS:

1. Personal

Within a marketing mailing, a cover letter is the one piece that comes with a signature. It’s your first and likely only opportunity to bring the depth of your organization into a singular voice. It’s from “I” or “we,” and represents one person speaking to the donor.

Give thought to who the letter comes from. The best results we’ve seen at Stelter come from these three sources:

  1. A respected and well-known member of your organization that the donor will recognize by name or by title.
  2. A fellow donor who has given a planned gift—establishing social proof just by reaching out.
  3. The person who will be on the other end of the line when the donor calls as a follow-up.

Tip: Read the cover letter out loud and see how it sounds as a conversation—fussy?, standoffish?, try again.

2. Personalized

Know and understand the recipient. Ensure that the cover letter is about them and how their partnership is crucial to future success. Seems simple, right? Unfortunately, you stumble early with “Dear Friend” as the starting point. With that generic note your mailer’s recipient is kept at a distance from the first two words.

Tip: Variable data and list segmentation overcome this best. Ensure that you can welcome the reader as a valued member of your community. Beyond a donor’s name, variable data and/or segmentation can help you localize the message, the top reason people give to charities in every category, according to Stelter research.

3. A Story

Use your cover letter as a narrative. Show the impact, show the need, show the opportunity the donor can be part of in making change. The best stories have a problem (the issues you solve), a villain (the thing holding you back), a hero (a combination of your work and your donor’s support) and a solution (“together, we can…”).

In a stewardship cover letter, shift the focus to the donor as the hero and the solution as the specifics of the work that you’ve accomplished because of their support.

 4. An Ask

Be clear on what you want the donor to do—call you, order your brochure, attend a special event—and then repeat it (and repeat it again). Most readers are skimmers so ensure that you’re clear on what you want them to do in the intro, in bolded text within the body of the cover letter and reiterated as the close (including the P.S.).

A cover letter is NOT:

The sale. A cover letter helps you move down the marketing funnel but it won’t close a planned gift. What a great cover letter will do is earn you a phone call or a brochure reach out. The next point of contact is where you get to have an even more personal conversation, personalized to the donor’s specific needs, where you can tell a story of how your nonprofit’s work matches their personal goals. Consider your cover letter the opening line of a meaningful relationship.

Craving even more ideas? Download our tip sheet on cover letter best practices.


Have you read or written a memorable cover letter? Let us know in the comments what made it stand out!

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