Letter-Writing Appeals

Student-led letter-writing appeals to program alumni can be conducted separately, or in conjunction with email appeals and/or phone-a-thons.  If this is being done for the first time, the AFC Coordinator may be more heavily involved than if students have been sending these kinds of appeals over the past few years in a row.


  • Plan letter-writing appeals as far in advance as possible.  (Ideally one year.)
  • Work closely with the AFC Coordinator and through her/him, the Development and Alumni Relations Office.
  • The more you can personalize a solicitation, the better.
  • Appeal letters should be no more than one page.  Briefer is better.
  • Hand-address envelopes, if possible.  (There is a better chance they will be opened.)
  • Personalize the salutation on the letter.  For example, “Dear Jane,” or “Dear John,” rather than “Dear GC Alumna/us”.  (This can be done by hand (which is best), or by computer, as part of a mail merge.)
  • Hand-sign letters, if possible, rather than scanning in a signature that gets printed out by a computer.  It makes the letter more personal.
  • Include a very short, hand-written note at the bottom of any solicitation letter, if possible.  If the signatory knows the addressee, then make the note more specific.  If not, then something as simple as “Stop by the department offices the next time you’re in the neighborhood!” could suffice.  (This will make it more likely that the recipient will read the letter.)
  • In general, the more evidence there is that a human being spent time writing the letter and addressing the envelope, the greater chance that it will actually be read.  (For example, it is more effective to hand-address an envelope than to use a label.)

Step 1:  Make the decision to solicit program alumni by mail.  (Be sure that you know the specific cause or activity that donations will be supporting.  For example, student travel and research grants.  Also, be sure that all of the concerned parties agree in advance on how these funds will be distributed, and by whom.)  Currently, September, late January, February, or early March are the best times of year for implementing a letter-writing appeal because that coordinates with the GC’s fundraising calendar.

Step 2:  Contact the AFC Coordinator to let her/him know about your decision to organize this appeal, and the cause or activity donations will support.  Confirm the date(s) when you would like student volunteers to help prepare the necessary appeal letters, envelopes, and reply envelopes.  Confirm the best ways for alumni to respond to this appeal:  i.e., an enclosed reply envelope and/or an online donation.  (Some mechanism needs to be in place to ensure that funds raised go into the appropriate account.  This will be specific to your program and this appeal.  Discuss this with the AFC Coordinator.)

Step 3:  Through the AFC Coordinator, find out from the Development and Alumni Relations Office the number of program alumni that could be solicited by mail, and agree on the number of student volunteers that you will ideally recruit to help with these efforts.  (In most cases, you will not want to be soliciting alumni who have already given in this academic year, or who have told the University that they do not wish to be solicited.)

Step 4:  Recruit student volunteers within your program to help assemble the appeal letters, envelopes, and reply envelopes.  Volunteers will need to know how much time is needed to help with this.  (For example, they should set aside 2 hours in the morning on a particular date.)  Volunteers will need to know what is involved.  (For example, hand-addressing envelopes, signing letters, and stuffing envelopes.)

Step 5:  Work with the AFC Coordinator to draft the text of the appeal letter.  If it is going to be coming from a current student, it needs to be written from that perspective.  Ideally, the letter will leave space for the student volunteer to handwrite the salutation (“Dear Jane,”), handwrite her/his signature, and handwrite a very short note to the addressee near the bottom of the page.

Step 6:  Reserve an appropriate space(s) where volunteers will meet and work on assembling the appeal letters and envelopes.  If this is being done in your program’s offices, be sure to coordinate this with your APO.

Step 7:  Through the AFC Coordinator, let the Development and Alumni Relations Office know where and when volunteers will be meeting, and keep them updated on the number of volunteers recruited to prepare the appeal materials.

Step 8:   Through the AFC Coordinator, confirm with the Development and Alumni Relations Office that: a) the appeal letters are being printed by them (or someone else, like the program) using appropriate stationery; b) the appeal envelopes will be available from the program office or the Development and Alumni Relations Office, so that these envelopes can be addressed; c) the appropriate reply envelopes will available from the Development Office, as well, so they can be marked with the specific cause (i.e., student travel and research grants); and d) the contact list (which has the contact information and other needed details about the alumni being solicited) will be available on the date(s) they are needed by the volunteers.  (Donation reply envelopes can be returned to the program or the Development Office; make that decision in conjunction with the AFC Coordinator and the Development Office.)

Step 9:  Remind student volunteers about the date, time, and location where they are to meet.  Schedule a student leader who is familiar with this letter-appeal process to oversee the volunteers.

Step 10:  On the date when these appeal letters and envelopes are to be assembled, student volunteers should be given the appropriate contact information from the programs and/or the Development and Alumni Relations Office, pre-printed appeal letters, envelopes needing to be addressed, and reply envelopes.  Volunteers need to do the following for each alumna/us being solicited:

a) Fill in the salutation of the appeal letter (if it has been left blank) with “Dear [FILL IN ALUMNA/US’S FIRST NAME],” for example, “Dear Mary,”

b) Sign the letter with the volunteer’s first and last name.  (The signatory’s title, for example, “Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center”, should be pre-printed at the bottom of the letter.)

c) Add a short personal note near the bottom of each letter.  (If the signatory knows the addressee, then make the note more specific.  If not, then something as simple as “Stop by our program’s office the next time you’re in the neighborhood!” could suffice.)

d) Hand-address (ideally) the appeal envelope to the alumna/us.  If not, then envelopes could be addressed by computer, or by using labels.  Hand-addressing, however, is best.

e) Inside that appeal envelope, place the completed appeal letter and a reply envelope.  (Take care in how these letters and reply envelopes are assembled.  You want to make it easy for the reader to see the salutation.  The reply envelope should be tucked in such a way that it comes out of the main envelope at the same time as the letter.)

Step 11:  Once the student volunteers have worked through all of their contacts, they should seal the envelopes and return them, with any extra appeal materials, to the student leader.

Step 12:  All of these extra materials should be returned by the student or the department to the Development and Alumni Relations Office (or some other appropriate party).  A note should be sent to the AFC Coordinator letting her/him know this has been done.  The sealed appeal envelopes should be given to the Development and Alumni Relations Office to mail out, and the AFC Coordinator should be informed of this.  (Or give them to the AFC Coordinator to get to the Development and Alumni Relations Office, it that is more practical.)

Step 14:  Send thank-you notes/emails to all of the volunteers and anyone else who helped with these efforts.

Step 15:  Update the student volunteers on the results of these efforts.

Step 16:  Any appeal letters that come back “return to sender” with updated addresses should be re-addressed and sent out again to the new address.  The old envelopes should be given to the Development and Alumni Relations Office so that they can update this information in their database.  The APO and the Development Office should also be made aware of any new address changes so that alumni records can be updated.


For an example of an appeal letter and envelope, see below.

[gview file=”http://opencuny.org/dscafc/files/2014/06/Sample-Letter-Appeal-Text-How-to-Guide.pdf”]

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