Why to Send a Year-End Appeal and How to Make it Great

writing a check

The weather is cooling, school’s back in session, and all of a sudden, we’re sprinting into fall. Fall is a REALLY BUSY season for most development folks. You, too? Your donors and board members are back from summer vacation, programs are in full swing, grant deadlines are looming, and you’ve begun planning your year-end appeal—or at least it’s crossed your mind, right?

It’s definitely not too early to start considering concept ideas for your year-end appeal – it may take time to land on your most powerful idea, and to get buy-in on the direction.

You’ll also want to create a timeline to cover the tasks it will take to clean and segment your mailing list, print letters and other appeal materials (or prepare digital mailings), coordinate with your mail house or volunteers for stuffing, apply postage (real stamps, not a meter!) and enlist board members to add personal notes to some letters.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? If you’re tempted to skip this year’s end-of-year appeal, here are 3 reasons to reconsider:

Year-end is the most charitable season of the year

People have helping others on their minds during the holidays and often feel more generous than at other times of the year. Some donors are more pragmatic and want to realize a tax benefit by writing checks dated on or before December 31. The 2013 Charitable Giving Report, published by Blackbaud, shows an over 100% increase in the number of Americans who gave to charity during November and December, compared to previous months.

Everybody’s doing it

It’s true – airwaves, social media channels, mailboxes and inboxes are crowded with charitable appeals at the end of the year. And that’s partly what makes my first point true. I know donors who purposefully waited until the end of the year to make their charitable donations because they know all of their favorite nonprofits send an appeal at this time. They simply arrange the various year-end Ask materials on the dining room table, make their choices and be done. Don’t let your organization be left out.

It’s a touch-point opportunity

Even if a donor chooses not to make a year-end donation, your fantastic appeal letter still did a great job thanking your donor for his past support and communicating all of the amazing things his support helped your organization accomplish in the past year. Your donor felt good about himself and about your organization when he read your letter – that counts.

Plus, one lone letter does not constitute a full-fledged year-end campaign. You’ll want to follow up via email, phone call, a second mailing or a visit (or some combination of these), depending on the donor, creating more opportunities to connect with your donor.

Whether you are sending hard copy letters, postcards, email blasts, or social media messages, there’s no shortage of advice on how to craft and display your year-end appeal message. Whatever your approach, you’ll want to:

Say thank you, first

Graciousness fosters generosity and you can never overdo it. For current donors, begin your letter with a simple thank you and acknowledge their previous support. Be sure to spell their name correctly and demonstrate that you know to whom you’re talking. Your donor management system can help you get these things right.

Use the word “you”

Don’t be so focused on listing your organization’s amazing accomplishments that you forget your donor made these things happen. As one of my fundraising friends likes to say, ‘It’s not the Me/Us Show, it’s the You Show!’

Always find places in your story where you can acknowledge your donor’s impact. “You were a critical ally in our fight against breast cancer this year.” “Your support helped provide cooking classes to more low-income children than ever before.” Everyone likes to be part of a winning team – make sure your year-end message makes donors feel part of your success, not distant from it. This is a great way to practice donor-centric fundraising.

Remember to ASK!

We try to do so much in our year-end appeal messages – be personal, tell a story, share outcomes, show visuals – just don’t forget to ask! Make space and time in your letter to clearly offer donors the opportunity to give. Remind them that you still need and want their support. Remember:  The #1 reason people give is because they were asked!

For more tips on the letter itself and what to include in the envelope, check out 5 Must-Haves for Annual Giving Success.

Now it’s your turn! What advice do you have on year-end appeals? Please share in the Comments box below. Your fellow fundraisers thank you!

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