Write Fundraising Letter Overlines That Donors Cant Resist (Includes Samples & Examples)

The headline that appears over the salutation in a fundraising letter is known as the overline. Overlines have one goal: to persuade your donor to read your letter.

According to direct mail copywriter and author Hershell Gordon Lewis, the best kind of overline to use in a one-to-one piece of communication like a fundraising letter is a hand-written overline, one that looks like a spontaneous burst of enthusiasm. Hand-written overlines, says Lewis, should not look "produced." I agree.

Your goal, then, if you decide to use an overline, is to work up more enthusiasm in your readers than your letter can generate without the overline. Here are some guidelines to follow.

Don't give too much away
The goal of your overline, like the goal of your envelope teaser copy, is to arrest attention and arouse curiosity. The quickest way to depress enthusiasm in your readers is to ask them for a gift right up front in your overline. Or to say that you will be asking them for a gift later on in the letter. Don't give too much away.

So instead of writing this:

Your gift today will help us stop gun violence.

Write this:

How do you keep a pistol out of the hands of a 12 year old?

Make the reader want to continue reading
You want to intrigue your reader, tease your reader into reading your opening sentence, then your second sentence, right on through to the end. So your overline, if you choose to use one, should set up a predicament, or pose a question, or suggest a paradox, or in another creative way compel the donor to read on.

Think about signing the overline
A handwritten overline is a little like a P.S. It serves as an afterthought, a spontaneous thought that the writer had just before dropping the letter in the mail. One way to emphasize the one-to-one tone of a fundraising letter is to have the person who signs the letter also sign the overline with his or her initials. Your overline would look like this (handwritten, of course):

Please be sure to read the important update I've enclosed. A.J.S.

Consider a 3M Post-it Note
Recent advances in printing and mailing machines let you attach a yellow Post-it Note to the top of your letters. To make these notes even more powerful, write them in the same color ink that you use for your signature, and address them to each donor by name.

Tie your overline into your envelope teaser copy
One way to use overlines is to make them answer a question or riddle that you created on your mailing envelope. But be careful here. Your letterhead overline is really the beginning of your letter and not the conclusion of your outer envelope teaser copy.

Your overline must work on its own after the envelope is discarded. Your readers, once they have read your outer envelope teaser copy, opened your envelope and started reading your letter, will not likely read your outer envelope teaser copy again. If they pick up your letter a week from now and start reading, they will not return to the outer envelope teaser copy and start reading there.

For this reason, your outer envelope teaser copy and your letter overline copy must work on their own as two grammatical thoughts. When your outer envelope teaser copy ends with ellipses, for example, your letterhead overline must begin with a capital letter, even though the overline may be completing the thought that you started on the outer envelope. Make each letter overline a complete thought on its own, one that begins with a capital letter.

About the author
Alan Sharpe is a professional fundraising letter writer who helps non-profits raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors using creative fundraising letters. Learn more about his services, view free sample fundraising letters, and sign up for free weekly tips like this at http://www.fundraisingletters.org.

© 2005 Sharpe Copy Inc. You may reprint this article online and in print provided the links remain live and the content remains unaltered (including the "About the author" message).

In The News:

Sales tax revenues holding steady  Georgetown News Democrat

Mindset Over Materials: The Secret Weapon of Sustainable Sales Success

Long-term sales success has less to do with skills or... Read More

Selling Against Goliath

Selling Against Goliath?How to Take on the Big Guys and... Read More

Why There Will Always Be High Paying Sales Jobs

With the dot.com revolution crushing once solid business models on... Read More

Cold Calling Reluctance

Most salespeople I know consider cold calling a dreadful, but... Read More

Why Write a Sales Letter for Each Product?

Authors/publishers are great at getting their books written. Entrepreneurs know... Read More

Web Promotion: 10 Amazing Web Promotion Ways To Jump Start Your Sales

Hello, do you have a website and sell something on... Read More

A Quick and Simple Tip For Gaining Customers

In the course of my career, I've had to deal... Read More

How to Set Appointments

The Importance of setting appointments is crucial to running a... Read More

Health Insurance Lead and Health Insurance Leads

Health insurance lead generation systems provide a stead stream of... Read More

Hate Follow-Up Phone Calls To Hot Prospects Who Won?t Call You Back? Stop Calling!

We all learned in Sales 101 we must follow up... Read More

Ten FAST Ways to Sell Your Products

Always give a reason for the sale for credibility. 1.... Read More

Needs Based Selling

I am sure you are familiar with the phrase, "I... Read More

How to Leverage Your Influence

Why do we get into sales? Typically it is two... Read More

What is a Pitch?

I've been training in countries outside the U.S. recently, and... Read More

60 Ways to Increase Your Mail Order Catalog Sales

This article is meant to inform. Please don't construe this... Read More

Save Your Breath: How To Sell In Trade Shows Without Pitching

You stand there, in front of your great presentation material,... Read More

The Importance of Good Sales Leads

An important part of your business plan should be to... Read More

Dont Let Rattlesnakes Scare You

Recently I was out trail running along the South Fork... Read More

Get The Help You Need With Fund Raising Ideas

There are many fund raising ideas on the market today... Read More

Whats So Special About You? Defining Your USP

Your prospect is in the market for a widget, just... Read More

If I Wanted To Sell For A Living, I Would Of Majored In It In College

By a show of hands, how many of you grew... Read More

Why Are Customers So Indecisive?

Do you know why your customer won't buy? You've given... Read More

Another Warm Lead

Saturday morning, I sat in my pajamas, sipping strong, black... Read More

Define Your Best Customer

To be more effective at developing relationships, one should always... Read More

Female Mannequins: An Overview

Female mannequins are very common in clothing stores. They are... Read More