Appeals

The First Year-End Appeal Letter

October 11, 2017 | Laurence A. Pagnoni

Here’s another important reason your participants should be at ease as they say thanks on your behalf: the same week you begin your Thank-A-Thon, you should also be mailing out your first of two year-end appeal letters. This will enable you to continue your all-important year-end fundraising efforts while removing all pecuniary interests from the Thank-A-Thon. With the fast pace of the holidays, if you don’t give your donors a few gentle reminders, your appeal is likely to get overlooked. In my experience, one of the top reasons cited by donors for not making a philanthropic gift is simply, “No one asked me to.”

I suggest you customize your year-end drive, including your appeal letter so that it states the exact giving history of that particular donor and inspires them to give more. If you’ve done your cultivation work well, your donors care about your cause and understand the central role that your organization plays in your community. They don’t have to be convinced. They are value-aligned with your organization and thus will enjoy receiving detailed letters about your work with which they identify. This letter should contain emotional stories about selected individuals that have benefitted from your programs, as well as the numbers of people that have been served and will be served in the future. A well-constructed appeal letter can reinforce the feeling the donor has of being a part of the organization and its work. For instance, one small nonprofit that ran an afterschool program told the moving story, through a progression of photographs, of a young boy named Javier who, despite coming from a severely disadvantaged background, became a statewide chess champion and later returned as a volunteer to the nonprofit which had nurtured him in his youth. The letter should be personalized and include a reply mechanism. Both your first year-end appeal letter and your second year-end letter should remind the donor of the amount of his/her previous contribution and ask for an amount representing a 50 percent increase. Research indicates that donors want guidance on the type of support your organization is seeking. For example: “We appreciate your gift of $500 last year and ask that you consider a gift of $750 for next year.”

The letter should be personalized and include a reply mechanism. Both your first year-end appeal letter and your second year-end letter should remind the donor of the amount of his/her previous contribution and ask for an amount representing a 50 percent increase. Research indicates that donors want guidance on the type of support your organization is seeking. For example: “We appreciate your gift of $500 last year and ask that you consider a gift of $750 for next year.”

The actual components of your mailing should consist of a large envelope, a four-to-six-page letter, and a small “cost-cut” reply envelope. “Cost-cut” means that reply information is printed on the flap of the envelope. I suggest you use a mailing house to produce the components of the mailing and to mail the items. You can send the mailing house your donor spreadsheet, and they will be able to insert in each letter the amount of the donor’s previous gift and the amount representing the 50 percent increase. In lieu of a mailing house, you can engage a direct mail temp onsite for a week or so if your staff is overwhelmed.

In addition to the above, a mailing house will run your donor list through the US Postal Service’s list correction service. This is a standard service that mail houses perform. This can also be done by USPS for an additional fee.

Direct mail is surprisingly powerful. A national study by Dunham & Company concluded that “donors are three times likelier to give online in response to a direct-mail appeal than an e-appeal.” This means direct mail is three times more effective than email at generating an actual donation. While sending email appeals exclusively can be tempting because they are less labor-intensive and cost less in the short term, over the long term they raise less money and do far less in terms of donor retention (the best donors are engaged donors). A coordinated effort combining direct mail and email is certainly best of all.
Consulting your donor database to target lapsed donors is also a good idea. To reach lapsed donors you may want to use a different style appeal letter. For example, you can write: “We miss you, please come back!” and include an incentive to return such as “The first 100 renewed donors will receive a T-shirt with our new logo.” If it’s membership renewal you seek, you could say, “If you act within the next ten days, you’ll enjoy a 25% savings on the membership rate.”

As a colleague has said:

“Many organizations used to broadcast ‘Dear Friend’ mailings to thousands of people —a ‘one-size-fits-all’ appeal to a broad audience. Today, with prospect identification software and market segmentation strategies in place, you can dice that audience into a great many sub-audiences, giving you the ability to custom-tailor these appeals to each of these distinct sub-audiences and to make those appeals in a highly personalized way.”

A donor database is an essential tool for tracking all kinds of relevant information, from addresses to amount of contact and level of mobility. Nonprofits often overlook having an appropriate database because they either think it’s unaffordable or they have a general technology phobia. Without a well-maintained database, though, targeting lapsed donors and engaging in the kind of segmentation needed is going to be tough or even impossible to implement. Thankfully there are many solutions readily available even to the most economically-challenged nonprofits. Bloomerang is a great starting point for many nonprofits looking to track constituents, partners, donors, donations, activities, volunteers, and cases. In the worst case, you can always use an Excel spreadsheet. To quote Peter Drucker once again, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Through the use of a donor database, you will gain an understanding of a donor’s giving history based on their contributions to other nonprofits as well as to similar causes within your region. You will also come to understand their capacity to give. Many of these third-party databases offer packages that allow you to bundle services according to your organization’s specific need and capacity to spend.

Don’t forget to post your year-end appeal letter on your website so donors can make their contributions online as well. Your “Donate Now” button should be prominent and visible on all pages of your site. 

Have these strategies been effective for your year-end appeal letters?  Please leave your comments at the blog.

Let's talk!

Find out how we can apply our expertise to the specific needs of your organization.

Contact us >