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The Rhetorical Situation

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The Rhetorical Situation and Donation Request Letters

Every written text responds to a specific rhetorical situation. No two rhetorical situations are the same, so learning how to assess your unique rhetorical situation is essential to crafting successful documents. However, there are a few aspects of the rhetorical situation surrounding donation request letters can be a good starting point.


Analyzing the target audience is essential to writing a successful donation request letter. There are many ways to research your audience. Depending on the recipient, you may be able to access information regarding their previous donation practices, including causes supported and amounts given. Your research in this area will help inform every aspect of your letter, including what you ask for and how you ask it.

Their Ability to Donate

Often, the recipient of a donation request letter is able to donate, just not at the level of an official organization, program, or event sponsor. Those who are able to donate at a more substantial level will often have an established method of doing so, such as a grant proposal. The level of donation you are requesting should not exceed the recipient’s ability to donate.

Perhaps you are writing to an organization, business, or individual who can provide resources that are not monetary. A business or company may have a product that will meet your need, or an individual may be able to donate their time and effort in the form of volunteer hours. What is it that your recipient can donate to help your cause? Asking different recipients for different donations based on their differing abilities is one method of better addressing your rhetorical situation.

Their Values, Attitudes, and Goals

Analyzing and reflecting on your audience to discover their values, attitudes, and goals will help you craft an effective donation request letter. Your success hinges on your ability to accurately read your audience in order to provide the best explanations, the most convincing justifications, and the most appropriate benefits. For example, will your audience be moved by an emotional appeal? A brief but moving narrative about a successful moment for your organization might persuade them to support your cause better than numerical statistics describing your success, while if you are writing to a local business, the owner might be more likely to become involved if your success is quantifiable. Almost every aspect of a donation request letter is influenced by your understanding of your audience, so significant research in this area is recommended.

Their Previous Knowledge

Often, you will be writing to individuals, businesses, or organizations that may have never heard of your sender or who you represent. Or, you may have established a relationship with the recipient through past interactions. Be sure to anticipate your audience’s questions regarding you and your cause. You may consider including supplementary information about you or the body you represent with the letter, if appropriate, such as a brochure or a website address. Your donation request letter itself should always make clear who you are/who you represent and what your cause is.

The Larger Context

Anytime we engage in discourse, whether written or spoken, we are entering into the larger social context of our rhetorical situation. This can include social or political issues at the local or national level, prominent news stories, fluctuations in the economy, and more. Considering the larger social context in which you will be asking for a particular donation for your particular cause is important for considering how to frame your need and your request.