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16 July 2018

10 tips for effective end-of-year donor appeals

When is the best time to start planning your end-of-year appeal to donors? Nonprofits that raise the most funds usually start planning in August. Use the following tips to maximize your online and offline fundraising appeals this year.

Find your subject. Tell a personal story.

Every organization has stories about people. Choose 1-3 people affiliated with your organization – a member, client, volunteer, donor, or other – and ask if you can tell their story. Why are they involved with you? What do you do that attracted them to be a part of your organization?

Also consider who will be the one asking and signing the letter. Will it be your director? A board member? A volunteer? Have you already told donors your brand story?

Make it urgent

What is at stake? If you raise $25,000 with your end-of-year appeal, can you serve 50 more people next year? Can you fund a new program? Can you buy an important piece of equipment? Can you pay for staff time to lobby decision makers about a crucial topic? Be specific and make it urgent.

Segment your audience

Your email list includes people with various different levels of engagement. Segment your list. Here are some common nonprofit segmentation ideas:

  • Never donated: With this group, you’d probably start small. Maybe $25, or join our monthly giving circle at $5/month.
  • Donates monthly at a low level: Recognize and thank them for their monthly contribution, and ask them if they can chip in another $25 or $50 (you decide the right amount).
  • Donates monthly at a significantly level: Recognize their monthly contribution, and ask them for $250 or $500 at the end of the year (again, you decide the right amount).
  • Donates significantly, once a year: Raise that amount 25% or so. For example, if they donate $500/year, ask if they can do $600 or $700.
  • Lapsed donors: Send a shorter letter, with an ask for a renewed donation that is similar to their previous donations.

The writing

You want multiple calls to action. Throughout the appeal, ask the donor to support or invest in your cause. Make it specific. Include the ask for a donation early and often.

Here are some email examples and a postal mail example.

No matter which method you use, email or a postal mail campaign the following are important considerations for your writing

  • Keep your paragraphs short, and come back to the ask frequently.
  • If a paragraph ends up a tad long, break it up or make a bulleted list.
  • Make sure the font is big enough.
  • Consider using a sans serif font like Arial for online email appeals, and a serif font like Open Sans or Times New Roman for print appeals.
  • Don’t be afraid to use bold and underline, or even yellow highlighting, to spotlight key ideas or messages.
  • Consider a callout quote of the person being featured in the appeal.
  • Use the p.s. line! It is surprisingly effective. Make your ask again at the end via a post script.

How long should it be?

For print, write 2-4 pages for active donors. Then edit it down to 1-2 pages for lapsed donors. Shorten it even more for an email campaign. And then write a shorter, summary version for Facebook, and an even shorter version for Twitter. Consider using the story for your newsletter, blog, or to pitch to local media outlets as a feature story.

Use photos

Data shows that photos of people, ideally with eyes looking directly at the camera, inspire people to act and to give. Ideally, your campaign subject has a person at the center of it, and you can use a photo of them.

Generate a custom donation page

The story you’re telling in this appeal is specific. Make sure your online donation page for this appeal matches that specific subject. Create a custom donation page that uses 1-3 sentences and includes a photo from your end-of-year appeal.

Make your email and donation page mobile responsive

Most people that you send the email appeal to will be reading the email on a mobile device. Make sure your email and donation page mobile friendly.

Plan an appeal series

For email or postal mail, send the first appeal. Then whoever hasn’t responded, send it again with a slightly different opening sentence. If your budget allows, send a third reminder – or, if sent via mail, maybe a postcard.

Follow up

No matter how much people give, after they donate, yes you should send a thank-you email or letter, but don’t stop there. Follow up in an email or postcard later and tell them how much was raised, or what you’ll be able to do in 2019 thanks to their help. Did someone make a big leap to another fundraising level? Or did a lapsed donor come back in the fold? Did you get a new donor? Call them! Maybe you can’t call everyone in these groups, but consider a threshold, and make some thank-you phone calls. This could also be done by volunteers if you have them.

Do what you can

Some of these steps are easy to implement and some require time and resources. You may consider a year-end consultant to help with segmenting lists and sending follow-up emails. Try reaching out to a nonprofit fundraising professionals group to find recommendations. But implementing even some of the tips above will help you raise more money this year for your important cause.

Natalie B.

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Natalie Bennon is a nonprofit communications and marketing consultant for AmDee LLC and other clients nationwide.