Request letter help.
August 14, 2009 10:04 PM   Subscribe

How can I go about writing a request letter to local companies asking for donations for an elementary school project?

My sister has recently started volunteering at a newly created, Title I magnet school -- John Muir K-12. Her task is to approach local "outdoorsy" businesses like REI and Adventure 16 and ask for donations and sponsorships. Because writing is not her strength she asked me to help her compose the donation request letter to be presented to these businesses. I've never seen one of these request letters - I imagine it shouldn't be too needy and should state how donating will help the business? Since the school wants to emphasize hiking and nature and trails and whatever else John Muir was involved in, she is to request items that would help the children learn about or experience these things. What is the best way to go about wording the request letter?
posted by RoseyD to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I know this is slightly off topic, but has she checked out the site:
posted by allthewhile at 10:11 PM on August 14, 2009

We get letters like this all the time from schools. If there is an actual link between the type of programs which would be funded by these donations and the businesses, I think that would help. I wouldn't emphasize how you think that the donation will help the business. Most businesses who donate money to schools are acting on a charitable impulse, maybe with some thought to public relations. I think that it's unlikely that they see substantial economic benefit from donations to an elementary school. Outright b.s. should be reserved for beginning personal relationships.

I used to reply to all of these requests. Unfortunately, a year or so I ago, all responses were an apology that we had suspended all of our charitable contributions, due to the economy. As the deluge of requests from schools increased, these letters were increasingly tossed without even being opened.

As to a template, she could contact someone doing this for another school/soccer team/day camp/scout troop/church youth group/animal rescue organization and ask to see a copy of what they send out. Alternately you could ask any small business owner you know for some of their incoming mail.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:22 PM on August 14, 2009

There is a list geared to reporters and media/PR people called Help a Reporter Out (HARO). The list sends about three emails a day and one of these emails usually features letters of the nature you are interested in. You might consider joining the list, browsing through some of those letters, writing one similar and even submitting it to HARO afterward.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:28 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

My partner is a middle-school teacher. Last year, she led a service-learning course for 6-8 grade (11-15) students. The students were asked to select a project, contact sponsors/potential connections, and execute with minimal help (but ample supervision) from the staff and faculty. The students made initial connections with local offices of several charities, ranging in scale from city to nationwide, and in one case arranged for the first time in the history of that large charity for products to be donated to the 6-8 grade students to be re-sold in support of that charity.

Granted, some of that success may have been because the students were more or less saying "please let us help you" rather than "please help us," but I was impressed and surprised by how well this flew. I'm under the impression that people were impressed by how much initiative the students were showing, and by how well the school handled early, lower-investment activities. So you may be able to succeed by letting the students help, assuming they are mature and well-spoken enough. These students were primarily low-income, and many were ESL students and first-generation immigrants, so with a magnet-school crowd, you should have some serious potential.
posted by Alterscape at 12:55 AM on August 15, 2009

This is a template for an individual fund appeal letter. It’s one of the best templates I’ve ever used, very effective both for individuals but also for sponsorships where the appeal is quite personal. While individual appeals are recommended to be 2-3 pages, I’d keep this to one page since it’s going to a business person, who is more likely to be impatient with appeals.

Best people to send it to are businesses with a connection to the school—see if you can find out if the execs at any of these places are from your home town, or better yet, your school, or someone whose life was changed by access to a magnet school. Researching the prospect is the key to good response to fundraising.

You can basically use each numbered bullet as a separate paragraph.

Dear Person whose specific name and job title I have researched,

1. Have a backstory.
Heartwarming story about a specific outcome that has helped a specific child through efforts only available at your school.

2. Use real testimonials.
Actual quotes from the people involved, from others who have made donations and from key stakeholders in your community (like the mayor, alderman, head of the school district, etc. Just call them and ask for a quote.)

3. Make a specific offer.
We respectfully request that COMPANY donate XX dollars or XX product to be used in XX way. Do NOT put this any lower in the copy than the third paragraph.

4. Show the product in action.
Your help will enable us to do this specific thing.

5. Give a reason to act NOW.
School’s starting, school’s ending, time to plan for summer camp, whatever.

Our school is great because XX. Your gift will help little LaShonda achieve her dream. Please give [repeat the request]

Thank you.

With deep gratitude,

Someone directly involved in the project.

P. S. ALWAYS INCLUDE A P.S. WITH AN URGENT CALL FOR ACTION. “LaShonda needs your help now. Please help SCHOOL by making a gift of REQUEST today.
posted by nax at 4:04 AM on August 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Our daughter's school sent out 200 letters for a barbecue fundraiser, as it has for a number of years, asking for donations - either monetary or products for the raffle. They were written with truth, humour, sincerity and followed many of the suggestions in nax's post. They were largely ignored as usual, butwere good to have on hand so the businesses could have a record of the request when we telephoned or visited as a follow up. Because this year I volunteered, with all of my retail smarts, marketing experience and best salesmanship skills and I realized that that was what was missing.

What really worked to garner donations was a very very personal approach - in my case, sometimes phoning, but more often walking into the store and speaking personally with the donation decider as a good customer, and yes, asking specifically. The charming shops in our neighbourhood don't know one public school from another, and they all submit requests - but they do know me and little peagood. It made a huge difference - we had twice as many silent auction prizes and made thousands more (and for our poor P.S., we're talking about $7,000 being our previous goal - and this fund pays for other fundraisers as well as for things like visiting scientists and artists and for the field trips for the roughly 26 kids from the neighbourhood shelter that attend the school). Other schools have much, much bigger fundraisers and budgets, but we haver fewer than 12 volunteers on the parent council for a shool of 192.

So, my suggestion is going to be what's going to happen this year, as I've assumed the role of coordinating the fundraiser part of the BBQ: Use the personal touch. It's easy to ignore letters, but if your good customer is standing in front of you, then it's harder to say no. Also, you have to be a good customer. After all, you're benefitting from their donation - they need something in return for their goodwill.
posted by peagood at 11:21 AM on August 15, 2009

I do this a lot at work. I just memailed you a copy of the most recent request letter I've written. Nax's breakdown is basically what I do.

I think two of the most important things are to suggest how the donation benefits them, even if that benefit is basically you advertising that they are awesome, and also to request something specific, rather than make a vague reference to 'support' or 'help'. Make it clear they have something that you're unlikely to get from other sources.
posted by donnagirl at 3:36 PM on August 15, 2009

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