“Pounding the pavement” is a favorite term among grass-roots organizers. It refers to the efforts of volunteers and others on the ground to mobilize supporters by going door-to-door and making their pitch face-to-face with donors, members, or voters at their homes.

Though resource-intensive, this process is extremely effective. And if you consider the alternatives, personal visits are the most intimate, engaging, and, well personal you can get in your organization’s outreach efforts. Nothing beats having a live, captivating, two-way dialogue with the individual you are trying to rouse to action in the flesh.

Unfortunately, this approach is untenable as a regular tactic to raise funds or attract new members. So what’s the next best thing? The answer: a personalized, well-crafted appeal letter.
In fact, a fundraising or acquisition appeal is very much like a personal visit. A well-written appeal feels like a conversation, as the letter’s content is specifically tailored to the reader’s thoughts and concerns. This conversation, in which your mission’s value to the donor is established through a captive narrative, takes place on the kitchen counter or the coffee table instead of at the front door or on the porch. But it can be every bit as persuasive, because it’s calibrated to the supporter’s character and suited to fit her trigger issues–those issues she is most passionate about.

If it’s done right, the appeal letter illustrates how the organization’s needs and goals aligned with those of the prospect. It’s the exact same approach used by skilled canvassers, but in this case, the two-way dialogue results not from a human’s sales pitch, but rather from the letter’s text, answering the prospects questions convincingly as they arise. Because the message systematically overcomes her objections and her reasons for rejection, the appeal allows the prospect to adopt the organization’s mission as her own.

By the end, the reader is convinced and wants to contribute either by joining the ranks or sending a gift. And she feels comfortable doing so using the enclosed reply device because it is sent directly and non-electronically to the organization’s headquarters. It’s a trusted form of communication that wins by building trust.

The lesson for fundraisers and campaign leaders is clear: If you’re unable to pound the pavement with reps and volunteers, your next best option to pound the mailbox with micro-targeted appeal letters.