Nine Expert Year-End Appeal Tips
Updated: Feb 9
When is the best time to start preparing your year-end appeal?
You’ll want the appeal to be mailed the second week of November, and it takes about 8 weeks to fully prepare.
If this leads to full-scale panic, fear not! We’ve got you. Here is a list of things to remember for the perfect year-end appeal.
It’s About the Donor
After the salutation, see if you can start the letter with the word “you.” It grabs the reader’s attention and positions the letter to be about the donor’s ability to make a transformational difference, not a plea about the organization’s needs. The word “you” (referring to the donor) should be used more often than the word “we” (referring to the nonprofit). Ensure the donor is cast as the hero.
First Emotion, Then Facts
Tell a compelling story, and back it up with facts – not the other way around. Most people don’t want to read a letter that begins with statistics. For instance, starting a letter with, “Did you know that 663 million people globally are undernourished?” is far less engaging than, “Angie, a single mother of four in our community, was able to feed her kids three nourishing meals a day for the past month, thanks to you.” Include the facts to back up the story after the emotional appeal.
Focus on One Individual
The reader may not feel like he or she can help millions of people, but everyone can help one person. Tell the compelling story from one person’s point of view, sharing the problem the person faced and how the nonprofit (with the donor’s help) made a transformational difference in that person’s life. Then let the donor know that an additional gift will make that type of difference in many people’s lives.
We want the letter to be about the donor, but it’s helpful to share what your nonprofit has achieved in the past year. Try and squeeze in a line or two about your nonprofit’s accomplishments – giving the donor the credit!
Make a Tangible Request
For new donors who are just beginning to build a trusting relationship with the nonprofit, it can be helpful to state what certain donation amounts will do. For instance:
$10 provides medication to treat kennel cough for one week
$65 pays for an x-ray for an injured pet
$102 sponsors a spay/neuter surgery
$368 covers ringworm treatment for one cat
$800 cures one dog from heartworm
$1,200 provides critical care for a pet with life-threatening injuries
Careful wording is important because in most cases, the donation will not be allocated to this exact item but will contribute toward the operating budget that provides all these items.
Mind Your Manners
Remember to say thank you! Say it as often as possible.
One Call to Action
It can be tempting to include in the year-end appeal a variety of ways people can get involved, volunteer roles that need filling, in-kind gifts that would be helpful. But more than one call to action leaves the donor confused and will absolutely cut into your year-end donations. Make it clear that the one and only call to action is to make a gift.
Even though it seems overdone (well, it is overdone), words like “Give Today!” and “We need your help NOW” make a difference. Response rates will increase. Yet, based on experience, I recommend using these words sparsely or donors will quickly tire of the constant desperation. I’d recommend only using words that communicate this level of urgency if the appeal is truly this urgent.
What you can do, however, is include a deadline for giving to the campaign, state a goal, and provide an online “thermometer” to show progress. (Pro tip: find a donor who will give enough to ensure you meet your goal if necessary). You always want to tell the world you met the goal!
Recap in the Postscript
If a reader reads nothing else, he or she will read the P.S. The postscript needs to succinctly recap the letter and include the call to action. For instance:
“P.S. Climate change will only change with your help! Please give today and our board of directors will match your gift dollar for dollar. Simply go to [our website] to donate. Thank you!”
And A Few Bonus Tips …
Make the appeal multi-channel by sending an e-mail before the letter drops to prime your audience, and 3-5 reminder e-mails afterward through December 31. Also, keep the campaign theme going on social media and a dedicated giving page on your web site. Add a video if possible, and double-check that all the links work.
Get a postage permit from the post office to keep postage costs low. It can take a couple weeks to process, so leave time.
Segment donors. For best return on investment, send only to current donors. To cast a wider net, include lapsed donors and/or purchase mailing lists.
Personalize the letter; avoid “dear friend” when possible.
Include a matching gift challenge if you can.
Photos within the letter or on the envelope may help; test this with your particular nonprofit
Send the appeal in large envelopes or utilize artwork or a teaser on the envelope to make them stand out among the many other envelopes donors will receive. If the envelope is not compelling, the letter will not get read.
Include a reply slip if the budget allows. If not, you may want to consider setting up a separate web page to collect donations for this appeal so you can track how well the appeal has performed. That web page should have the same look, feel, and theme as the appeal letter.
Be clear about how to give (reply card, go to web site, QR code, etc.).
Ask for not only one-time gifts, but for donors to consider giving monthly. Make sure this is possible in the response card and/or on the giving page of the web site.
Including a response envelope can increase response rates, but for many nonprofits, adding postage to the return envelope is too expensive to be worthwhile.
Is there a way to engage the donor without muddying the message? Can the donor send well-wishes to someone in the hospital, prayers for someone in the military, a note of thanks to a beloved medical worker?
Include a handwritten note on the envelope or in the appeal if at all possible
Consider A/B testing your mailers and e-appeals to see what works best for your nonprofit.
 Hunger and Undernourishment - Our World in Data: ourworldindata.org/hunger-and-undernourishment#how-many-people-are-undernourished  Paws Chicago: pawschicago.org/how-to-help/donate/your-giving-saves-lives/what-your-donation-can-do/
Questions? Need help? Feel free to reach out to Benezet Advisors. We are here for you.