The Arts Appeal: Taking a page from Charles Dickens

The Arts Appeal shines a spotlight on the craft of fundraising for the arts. While many arts organizations are now mid-season, it’s the heart of winter and end-of-year for many of their patrons. In light of this, we turn our focus to the year-end donor appeal letter.


In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge’s cold ways are the embodiment of winter. And, just as winter is followed by spring, so too is Scrooge’s dark heart restored to the benevolent innocence of his youth through his own generosity and gratitude:


“I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”


Indeed, ‘tis the season for giving, and with the added incentive of a year-end tax receipt, December makes for an apt time for arts organizations to send their donation appeal letters. With mailboxes bursting with flyers and holiday cards, it’s important to ensure your letter stands out from the crowd.


Year End Letter


To write a winter-warming donor appeal letter, consider keeping these five priorities in mind:


  1. LEAD: Does your letter create immediate interest? Will your patron begin reading? Does it speak to the power of the art you create, present, or program? Did you develop a strong theme? A story? Breaking news? Sometimes you can find a stronger lead in the body of your letter later on and move it up to the introductory paragraph.

  3. WRITING STYLE: Is it easy to read, friendly and personal? Do the words flow easily like conversation? Is it emotional? Are there good transitions between ideas? Be sure to remove long words, sentences or jargon and use down-to-earth language.

  5. THE REQUEST: Have you actually asked for a contribution without apology in a strong, straightforward manner? Has the best case been made for why the money is needed? Is the need stated several times and in several ways before the final request?

  7. URGENCY: Will your patron understand that she or he must move quickly? Is an immediate response urged? Is a strong reason given to act now – like a crisis, deadline, or tremendous opportunity?

  9. FORMAT: Does it look like a letter? Do you make good use of white space? Do you use graphic devices like subtitles, underlines, indented copy and bulleted lines to increase readability? Remember, if it can’t be easily read, it won’t be read at all.

Finally, and most importantly, make it easy for your patrons to give. Be sure to include clear instructions on how to donate by mail, online, or by phone. Donation forms and clear directions will greatly increase the likelihood of patrons contributing to your organization or project. In this season of giving, don’t hesitate to provide patrons with an opportunity to support the inspired work you do. It’s enough to warm Scrooge on a dark winter day.
scrooge happy


To see Scrooge and charity in action, catch SFU Woodward’s presentation of Bah! Humbug from December 11 to 14 at the Fei & Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, with proceeds benefiting the flagship Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival.


Categories: MPMG