While we’re still processing the year 2020, the end of 2021 is speeding by and 2022 is a mere few months away. We still have so much fun to look forward to in 2021, including spooky scares, carving the turkey and holiday shopping galore. However, for those of us in the nonprofit world, we have one more pressing thing on our lists before we close out the year—crafting the perfect year-end appeal letter.
First, let’s acknowledge that a great appeal letter requires advance planning. And we’re not talking for 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.
Luckily, you’re on top of planning this year and we’re here to help. Check out these 10 ways to make your fundraising appeal letter the best and most effective it has ever been.
1. Be sure your mailing list is updated.
Outdated addresses are the fastest way to ensure your year-end appeal stops before it ever starts. For the ultimate return on your investment, ensure your contact information is complete, clean and updated with the latest information from supporters both new and old.
At Firespring, we can add to your direct mail 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. That’s why it’s vital that your list reflects your most up-to-date donors.
2. Think outside the text box with engaging images and great design.
Think high-quality photos (and, in online appeals, videos), which can help put faces to the individuals, places or animals that you support. Strive for a clean design, which means you don’t add too many elements. Let the powerful imagery or media speak for itself. Remember—the best images elicit emotions.
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.
3. Get personal with your year-end appeal letter.
Make your ask more impactful by personalizing it. You’re much more likely to respond to something that mentions you by name versus “Dear donor.” Or to take it a step further, mention personal details about their history with your organization.
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.)
4. Focus on the donor.
It’s tempting to try to showcase all of the wonderful things you’ve done and speak in a way that sings those accomplishments. While it’s important to shout out all of the wonderful things you’ve been able to accomplish, you should do so in a way that focuses on your donor. Sure, your organization made an impact, but you wouldn’t have been able to make that impact without your donors.
Use “you” language. For example, instead of saying “we were able to give….” say “Your donation made it possible to give….” By substituting self-centric language for “you” language, it helps your audience feel more connected to the cause. Show your recipients 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.”
The two words your prospective and past donors can never hear enough of are the words “thank you.” While you’re focused on making the ask, stop yourself from diving right in. Many of the people on your list have donated their time or money to help in the past year, and they deserve to hear (yet again!) how much of a difference they’ve made. Start by acknowledging what they’ve already given!
6. Keep it conversational.
It’s easy for you to carry on a conversation in person, but for some reason many organizations forget their conversational tone when they start to write their appeal.
Remember that 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. Re-read your appeal as if you don’t know anything about nonprofit organizations. Ask yourself—Would you understand the cause? Would you be moved to give?
7. Make your year-end appeal letter brief.
Since you did a mountain of good in the past year, it’s easy to want to shout those good deeds out from the mountaintops (figuratively). However, brief is the best way to craft your year-end appeal. When you include too many details, you distract from the main reason you’re writing your appeal, which is the call to action. We’ll get to that in just a bit (see #9).
8. Write and design for people who’ll scan it.
It’s the time of year where holiday cards pour in and time is spent with family and friends. That means chances are, many will be scanning your letters for times’ sake.
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.
9. Include a clear call to action.
Make it very obvious what you want your reader to do by the time they’ve finished your appeal: You want them to give a certain amount of money by a certain date for this particular campaign, which will impact these individuals or support this cause.
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 if they missed the point.
10. Make it easy for them to give.
Even the most moving appeal letters can’t be considered a success if it isn’t easy to give. Some donors prefer going entirely digital while others want to drop off a check or mail it in. Cater to all donors and make it easy to do both.
Simply provide a way to return a gift via mail, and also online. You can print a URL and provide a link for your donors included in your direct mail piece. Plus, it’s a good idea to create a customized landing page for your end-of-year campaign to give an extra personalized touch! That way, you’ll be able to reinforce all of the great things you have achieved in the past year and highlight what another donation would mean for your cause.
BONUS: Segment Your Donor Lists
We said there would be 10 ways to make your year-end appeal letter better, but it’s your lucky day! We’re throwing you just one more piece of info to help you on your year-end appeal journey. For an added layer of personalization, segment your donor lists.
Segment your lists into categories such as those who have never given before, small one-off donors, recurring donors and donors who have donated large sums. This will help you perfectly craft the language to reflect their giving status and how they can continue to work with your organization in the future.
Your year-end appeal has the power to reel in new donors, reignite lapsed donors and nudge your current donors to give again. Using these 10, *ahem 11*, tips to craft your most effective year-end appeal yet.
Why stop there? Your appeal letter isn’t the only part of your year-end campaign. Download your free year-end fundraising checklist so you don’t miss a single thing as we close out 2021. That’ll get you off to a great start for your best end-of-year appeal yet.