For many of us, the end of the year means busting out the ugly sweater that’s been collecting mothballs in the closet, fighting extra crowds at Target and navigating the sometimes tricky waters of family gatherings and office parties. For those of us in the nonprofit world, we can add one more stressor to our list that often tops all the others: crafting the perfect year-end appeal letter.

First, let’s acknowledge this: A great appeal letter requires advance planning. And we’re not talking a few weeks. The printing and mailing alone will take 5–7 business days, and the writing and design typically even longer. That’s why it’s so important to start thinking about your end of year appeal now, if you haven’t already, to maximize your impact and be sure that it will be as effective as possible.

To get your wheels turning and your mind focused on December, here are 10 ways to make your fundraising appeal letter more effective than it’s ever been.

1. Be sure your mailing list is updated.

For the ultimate ROI, start with a good mailing list. Do you have outdated addresses? Have you updated it with your most recent and newest supporters? A great response to your appeal letter begins with a current and accurate mailing list. At Firespring, we can add to your list, refine it or even purchase a new list entirely, but mailing to those who have supported you throughout the year will yield the best results, so be sure your list reflects your most up-to-date donors.

2. Think outside the text box with engaging images and great design.

An effective appeal is one that pulls the reader into your world and engages them visually. Whether you need an entire design created or simply need your existing art prepped for the presses, we’ve been playing the direct mail game long enough to know what makes a piece a slam dunk, and our print experts can help you. But if you’re designing on your own, think high-quality photos (and, in online appeals, videos), which can help put faces to the individuals, places or animals that you support. Keep your design “clean,” which means less is often more—don’t add too many elements. And think “heartstrings.” That’s what you want your images to tug on when your donors read your appeal. The best images elicit emotions.

3. Get personal.

Make your ask more impactful by personalizing it. With variable data printing, you can mention your recipient by name and even provide ask amounts based on their past giving. (For example, if Susie Q gave $10 earlier this year, ask if she’d be willing to chip in another $5, $10 or up her donation to $20.) If possible, you could also reference the recipient’s previous involvement within the copy of your letter. For example: “Your $200 gift last year provided 20 meals for five families.” Or, “Your hard work on our spring auction really paid off as it was our most successful one to date.”

4. Focus on the donor.

This might seem a little counterintuitive because, after all, you’re often trying to summarize all the impactful things your organization did throughout the year. But trust us when we say your donors don’t necessarily care about all the things; they care about the difference that they made and how you used their donations. Yes, they want to know you made an impact—but tell them how they made an impact through you. That’ll make them feel even more connected to your cause.

5. Start your year-end appeal letter with “thank you.”

Seriously. You might want to get right to the ask and spell out the whats, whys and whens of your appeal, but many of your donors have already done a lot for your org throughout the year, so don’t move right into asking them for more without acknowledging what they’ve already given.

6. Keep it conversational.

It happens to everyone: You get immersed in your industry or your field, and you start picking up the lingo and vernacular, and before you know it, you’re speaking the language of everyone around you. But your donors don’t necessarily know nonprofit speak—so don’t use your jargon with them. Save it for your co-workers and conferences. The best messaging for your donors and prospects is warm, friendly, simple and to the point in language that’s free of nonprofit lingo.

7. Be brief.

You could practically write a book, right? With end-of-year appeals, it’s tempting to give a month-by-month breakdown of all the cool stuff your organization participated in or sponsored or hosted or (fill in the next blank). You did a lot of great things! But you don’t need to include them all in your appeal letter. For best results, jump into the heart of your message somewhat quickly so that donors don’t get lost before they make it to the call to action: your ask.

8. Write and design for people who’ll scan it.

It’d be nice to think that everyone who gets your appeal letter will read every word and soak up all the editorial goodness that your carefully crafted message has to offer, but let’s be real: Most people will just glance and scan. So, make it easy for them to read. Include short paragraphs, bullet points, bolded text or italics—whatever you can to break up the text and make it easy to read for people who scan. Put the kibosh on long-winded paragraphs and run-on sentences because if your reader has to work too hard, your message will go right into the recycling bin.

9. Include a clear call to action.

Finally, make it very obvious what you want your reader to do by the time they’ve finished your appeal: You want them to give this amount of money by this date for this particular campaign, which will impact these individuals or support this cause. You fill in the details, but be clear, bold and compelling when it comes to actually making the ask. You don’t want someone to finish your appeal letter and wonder what was the point.

10. Make it easy for them to give.

You might have donors who’ve gone completely digital as well as those who are happy to kick it old school—so prepare for both. Provide a return envelope and card as well as a link or URL to donate online—and if you create a customized landing page for your end-of-year campaign, all the better.

Think of your year-end appeal letter as a way for you to remind donors why they’ve supported your mission in the past and to get them excited about contributing again. But don’t stop there: Your appeal letter isn’t the only part of your year-end campaign. If that elevates your blood pressure a bit, relax: We’re not saying that to stress you out, but instead to let you know that we can help you.

We’ve created an end-of-year fundraising appeal checklist that’ll help you get organized and stay on top of all the deets you need to be concerned about and the great news is we can help support you in several ways, from printing your letter or direct mail piece to getting your website ready for increased traffic and online donations.

First things first: Download your free year-end fundraising checklist. That’ll get you off to a great start for your best end-of-year appeal yet.