Your Year-End Appeal Checklist


This summer is flying by and September will be here before you know it. Fall is a busy time, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal.

Many nonprofits rely on their year-end appeal for a good portion of their revenue.  Even though your mind may be focused on going to the beach and eating ice cream, you want to start planning your year-end appeal now.  Here’s a checklist to help you get started. Of course you can use this any time you run a fundraising campaign.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal in your 2015 fundraising plan (at least I hope you did) and perhaps you need to revise that goal.  If you haven’t set a goal, determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign.

Do you have a plan?

Put together a plan for your appeal that includes a timeline, task list, and the different channels you will use.  Make it as detailed as possible.

When do you want to send your appeal? In the beginning of November?  Figure out what you need to get done and how long it will take. You may need to recruit extra volunteers or get your materials to a mail house.

Are your mailing lists in good shape?

Make sure your postal and email mailing lists are up-to-date.  Check for duplicate addresses and typos. Your donors don’t want to receive three letters at the same time or have their names misspelled. Also, segment your lists – current donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc.

Do you have a good story and photo to share?

Find a good story for your year-end appeal. You’ll want some engaging photos for your letter and donation page, too.  Quotes from clients will also enhance your appeal.

Why You Need to Tell Your Stories

Get Noticed in an Instant With a Visual Story

How did your donors help you make a difference?

Your appeal letter should highlight some of the year’s accomplishments and state what you plan to do next year. For example, let’s say you run an afterschool program for high school students. Share your success of reaching your goal of serving X number of students. Next year you’d like to expand and serve middle school students, as well.

Focus on the people you serve and show how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until the end of October to check your supply of letterhead and envelopes.  Make sure you have enough. Perhaps you want to create a special outer envelope.

Even though many people donate online, you want to make it easy for donors who prefer to mail a check. Include a pledge envelope or a return envelope and a preprinted form with the donor’s contact information and the amount of last year’s gift.

Stamps are more personal, so you might want get some nice ones to use.

Is it easy to donate online?

Be sure your donation page is user-friendly and consistent with your other fundraising materials.  Highlight your year-end appeal on your home page and include a prominent Donate Now button.

You could set up a special page for your year-end appeal.

The Top 10 Most Effective Donation Form Optimizations You Can Make

Set Up a Customized Donation Page

While you are at it, check your website for out-of-date information and broken links.

Does Your Website Need a Tune Up?

How does a donation help the people you serve?

Create a set of giving levels and let your donors know how their gift will help. Here’s an example.

Do you have an incentive to entice donors to give a larger gift?

Instead of premiums, see if you can find a major donor who will match any upgrades.  I know of an organization that also uses this as an incentive to get new donors.

Boost Your Fundraising Results With a Match From a Major Donor

Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?

Monthly or recurring giving is another way to get a larger gift. Some people might balk at donating $100 or more, but if you present it as $10 a month ($120 a year!), it sounds more feasible.

How will you thank your donors?

This is so important. Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal. You need to thank your donors as soon as you receive their gifts.

Handwritten notes and phone calls are much better than a pre-printed letter. Now is a good time to create or buy some thank you cards, as well as find board members and volunteers to make thank you calls or write notes.

Don’t Treat Thanking Your Donors as an Afterthought

How are you showing the love?

I know this is a busy time, but don’t skimp on your donor communication.  Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing success stories and gratitude. Go the extra mile and create a thank you video or hold an informal open house.

How are you preparing for your year-end appeal?

Image by Backdoor Survival

Connection Not Interruption


I’m a big fan of marketing guru Seth Godin. His blog is filled with pearls of wisdom. I highly recommend subscribing to it for his daily gems. One that caught my attention recently is “connection not interruption.”

When you’re communicating with donors here’s how to ensure you’re connecting and not interrupting.

Be donor-centered

Some people may think of fundraising appeals as an interruption, but you can connect with your donors in an appeal if you focus on them. Thank your donors for their past support, show them how their gift will make a difference for the people you serve, and let them know you couldn’t do what you do without them.

Connect because you want to, not because you have to

Just because you have a monthly e-newsletter, doesn’t mean you’re connecting with donors, especially if it’s filled with boring articles about how wonderful your organization is. Don’t get caught in a situation where the beginning of the month is coming up and you quickly cobble something together just to get your newsletter out. Because if you do, it will show.

Having a communication calendar to help you plan is great, but you also need content that connects. Stay Connected Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar 

Be a welcome visitor

People receive so much useless information, especially by email and social media.  Even our direct mail is mostly junk mail. Share information your donors will be interested in, such as stories that show them how they’re helping you make a difference.

Donors don’t have much time to slog through a bunch of long-winded text. Share short, easy to read messages. Even better, connect in an instant with a great photo or image.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend and don’t confuse donors with terms like food system problems.

Use inviting subject lines such as Learn how you helped Janet find her own home. Make your direct mail piece look inviting by hand addressing the envelope or putting a teaser on the envelope like the one above.

How much is too much

Most likely you aren’t communicating enough. I recommend direct mail (not just fundraising appeals) at least four times a year, monthly e-newsletters, weekly short email updates, and social media at least once a day. But that may not work for your organization.

Another one of my favorite Seth Godin quotes – “Is more always better? Sometimes, only better is better.”

If it’s impossible to send email every week, send it every other week, but make it shine.

Get donors involved

Include a short survey or poll in your e-newsletter asking donors to vote on their favorite article or choose their favorite picture for a campaign or your website. I know of an organization that asks supporters to vote on their favorite holiday card designs.

Make it easy and fun – nothing time consuming. There are lots of different ways to connect besides updates.  If you asked donors to contact their legislators, thank them for getting involved and let them know the results. Invite people to be part of a conversation on social media.

5 Super Solid Ways To Engage Your Supporters Online (PLUS 28 Affordable Tools to Help You Do It)

Are you really connecting

Don’t just send stuff – make sure you’re really connecting.  Check your email click through rates and social media stats.  If you’re not getting much of a response, find out why. Maybe the surveys aren’t such a great idea.  Maybe your donors don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter.

Figure out how you can connect with your donors, and not just interrupt.

Photo by Wes Peck

Don’t Treat Thanking Your Donors as an Afterthought


This post is included in the July Nonprofit Blog Carnival 18 End-of-Year Fundraising Tips

Summer is in full swing, but fall is just around the corner.  Many of you may be starting to work on your year-end appeal, but have you given any thought to how you will thank your donors?

Thanking your donors is just as important as your appeal.  Here’s how can give your donors a great thank you experience.

Make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Many people donate online now, and your landing page is your first chance to say thank you.  It should be personal and not have all the charm of a Home Depot receipt.

Open with Thank you, Jean! or You’re amazing!  Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help the people you serve.  Put all the tax deductable information after your message or in the automatically generated thank you email.

6 Fresh Ideas for Your Nonprofit’s “Thank You” Landing Page

If you use a third-party giving site, you might be able to customize the landing page. If not, follow up with a personal thank you email message within 48 hours.

Robots don’t make good writers

Set up an automatic email to go out after someone donates online. This will let your donor know that you received her donation and it didn’t get lost in cyberspace.

Be sure it’s warm and personal.  Just because your thank you email is automatically generated, doesn’t mean it needs to sound like it was written by a robot.

You’ve only just begun

I’m a firm believer that even if someone donates online he should receive a thank you card, letter, or phone call within 48 hours.

Stand out with a handwritten note

You can make your donor’s day by sending a handwritten thank you note. Personal mail is so rare, and your card will stand out.

Now is a good time to create some thank you cards.  One idea is to use a picture of a client or group of clients holding a thank you sign. 58742420_459d268c5e_z If cost is an issue, you could get the cards donated.

Writing cards will take more time, so you’ll need to plan ahead. Craft a sample note; recruit staff, board members, volunteers, and clients to help write cards; and hold thank you writing parties immediately after you send an appeal.

Phone calls make a difference, too

You can do the same thing with thank you phone calls.  Create a sample script, recruit people to make calls, and hold thankathons after your appeal.

Create an awesome letter

If it’s impossible to write cards or make phone calls, then send an awesome letter.

This means something personal and conversational.  Leave out vague jargon such as at-risk or underserved. Recognize past gifts and upgrades, and give a specific example of how the donation will make a difference. Something like this.

Dear David,

Thanks to your generous donation of $75,we can provide a family with a week’s worth of groceries. 

Thank you for being a longtime donor!

Here are some more examples.

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

How to Craft a Killer Thank You Letter

Creating More Donor-Centered Thank You Letters: One Nonprofit’s Success

Make your new donors feel welcome

Approximately 70% of first-time donors don’t give a second gift. We need to change that.

Start thinking about creating a welcome package for your new donors. A week or so after you mail a thank you note/letter, send something in the mail or by email, if money is tight.

New Donor Welcome Kits | Your Next Gift Strategy

How Welcoming is Your Welcome Package?

It’s all about relationships

Keep in touch now and throughout the fall, so you stay on your donors’ radar. Then continue to thank your donors all-year round.

Why You Need a Thank You Plan

As you you prepare for your year-end appeal, please don’t treat thanking your donors as an afterthought.

Image by Woodley Wonderworks

How to Get Everyone in your Organization on the Same Page

5099718716_2f066cebc7_zWhat would happen if you got your staff or board together and asked them to give a short description of what your organization does? Would you get 20 different answers?

Now take a look at some of your communication materials – fundraising letters, thank you letters, website etc. Are your messages consistent in all your materials?

Inconsistent messages are fairly common among nonprofits, but don’t worry, it’s something  you can fix.

Create a message platform
Putting together a set of clear, consistent messages, also known as a message platform, is a good project for you to do this summer.

Now whenever you create a fundraising letter or content for your website, you can draw material from this set of messages.

Having a consistent set of messages is essential when you have more than one person writing for your organization and as new staff or volunteers come on board. All your materials need continuity and a single voice.

Everyone in your organization – staff, board, volunteers – is a message ambassador, and needs to be involved. Although, that doesn’t mean they should be involved in every step of the process.  Your best bet is to have a small group – marketing staff and board members with marketing experience – put together the message platform.

You may want to get some initial input from staff and board. Ask everyone a few key questions, such as:

  • Who is your target audience? You may need to cater different messages to different audiences.
  • What is important to them?

As you create your positioning statement and talking points, ask:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?
  • Why is it important?
  • What makes your organization unique?
  • How are you making a difference for the people you serve and in the community?
  • What do you want to achieve?

Keep it simple
This may sound obvious, but your goal is to make sure your reader understands your messages. Your messages should be clear and specific.  Sometimes they’ll include a call to action. Write in a conversational style and steer clear of jargon. Create a Jargon-Free Zone  Most people respond better to a human interest story than a lot of statistics.

Your messages should not say something like – We make a difference for at-risk students. Instead, say Our volunteer tutors help students boost their reading and math skills so they’ll have a better chance of getting into college.

Use language your donors will understand
Have someone outside your organization, a friend or family member, look at your messages. Something that’s clear to you may be confusing to others.

Stay consistent with a style guide
Continuing on the theme of consistency, I strongly recommend putting together a style guide. Create a Style Guide for Your Organization

Get everyone on the same page

When you’ve finished putting together your message platform, introduce it to the rest of your organization.  Check in periodically to make sure everyone stays on the same page.

Here is some more information help to you create a message platform.

Putting nonprofit key messages to work

Getting to Aha! The Nonprofit Marketer’s Top Challenge

Photo by David Dugdale –

Create a Jargon-Free Zone


Are your appeal letters, thank you letters, and newsletter articles laced with terms like at-risk youth, underserved communities, leverage, and impactful?  If you think your donors understand you when you use jargon like this, think again.

It’s easy enough to use these terms around the office. I think people use jargon because it’s an insider language, and it makes them feel like they’re “in the know” in their professional world.

But the danger comes when jargon creeps outside of your insular community and into your donor communication.

People need to understand you to connect with you

We can get lazy and use jargon when we can’t think of anything fresh and original. The next time you write something for your organization, look it over to see if it contains words found in this link. Jargon Finder 

If it does, replace them with plain, but fresh language that your donors will understand. Garbl’s Plain English Writing Guide

Not all the words in the above links are jargon. Some are awkward or pompous words and phrases that you should also avoid.

Jargon fixes

Sometimes you need to give a little more information. For example instead of just using the term food insecurity, describe a situation where a single mother has to choose between buying groceries and paying the electric bill.

Let’s look at a few more of these problem terms and what you can say instead. You may use some of these terms internally and they might be in your mission statement, but try to limit them when you communicate with donors.

  •  At-risk means there’s a possibility something bad will happen. Instead of just saying at-risk students or youth, tell a story or give specific examples of something bad that could happen. Our tutoring program works with high school   students who are more likely to fail, be held back, and drop out of school.
  • Underserved means not receiving adequate help or services. Instead of saying we work with underserved communities, explain what types of services the residents don’t receive.  Maybe it’s healthcare, affordable housing, or decent preschool. Tell a story or give a specific example. Tammy isn’t able send her daughter Emma to a good preschool because there isn’t an affordable one nearby.
  • Impact means having an effect on someone or something.  How are you doing that, and why is it important?  Again, give a specific example. Thanks to donors like you, we’ve helped families find affordable housing so they don’t have to live in a shelter, a motel, or their car. Now they have a place to call home. And, let’s all agree never to use the word impactful.

What would Aunt Edith Think?

Imagine you’re at Thanksgiving dinner and you’re explaining what your organization does to Aunt Edith. Does she look confused and uninterested when you spew out words like underserved and at-risk?  Imagine your donors doing the same thing.

Be conversational when you write and create a jargon-free zone.

I’d love to hear examples of jargon that makes you cringe.

Image by Gavin Llewellyn

Are You on the Road to Improvement?


At the end of last year, I recommended Five Ways to Improve Your Fundraising and Communications in 2015

Now that we’re almost halfway through the year, let’s revisit this list and see how you’re doing. I’ll also share ways you can continue on this path throughout the summer and into the fall.

Tell stories

Are you telling your stories?  Summer is a good time to share a success story or update.  You can do this in your newsletter, in a postcard, by email, on social media, or a combination of these.

In addition, take time this summer to put together some stories for your year-end appeals and thank you letters.

Create a memorable thank you experience

Speaking of thank yous, did you give your donors a memorable thank you experience after your last appeal, and do you thank them regularly?

Send a special thank you message to your donors this summer. You could combine it with your success story/update (see above).

Then take a look at thank you letters from your past appeals. Are they dry as dust and open with the usual On behalf of X organization, we thank you…Or do they shine with You’re amazing or Thanks to You!  Work on sprucing up your thank you landing page and email response, too.

Keep thanking your donors throughout the year. This needs to be a priority.

Be donor-centered

Do your donor communications focus on how your donors are helping you make a difference for the people you serve, or are you bragging about how great your organization is?

Before you send your special thank you update this summer, check to make sure it’s donor-centered.  Is it focused on them and are you sharing something that will interest your donors?

Then work on making your appeal letters and thank you messages donor-centered.   Are you telling your donors how they are helping you make a difference?

Pay attention to your donor data

Has it been awhile since you’ve even looked at your donor database?  Summer is a great time to go through your database and make any additions, deletions, and corrections.  Don’t wait until a week before your next appeal is scheduled to go out.

I know this is tedious, but your donors don’t want to see their names misspelled or receive duplicate mailings.

Also, segment your donors (new donors, repeat donors, lapsed donors, event attendees etc) and start working on targeted appeal letters.

Nix the swag and premiums

We all want donors to upgrade their gifts or give at a higher level, but don’t use swag or premiums as an incentive.

Here’s a better idea from my local community foundation.  They found an anonymous donor who matched all new donations and any increases in giving from the previous year.

You also want donors to give because they care about your organization, not because they want a coffee mug.  If you can’t find a matching donor, spend some time this summer nurturing your donors (e.g. the thank you update), so they’ll be more inclined to give a larger gift.

I hope you’re on the road to improvement. I’ll continue to share more ideas throughout the summer to help you get ready for year-end.

Photo by Cristian M. Mormoloc

How You Can Print and Mail Without Breaking Your Budget


In my last post I wrote about Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Direct Mail Some nonprofit organizations try to save money by cutting back on printing and mailing, but that could be a mistake if your donors prefer to hear from you by mail.

Printing and mailing also takes more time, which is challenging, especially if you have a small staff.

What can you do?  Here are some suggestions.

Be smart

First, figure out what you should print and mail.  I recommend mailing at least four pieces a year.  Otherwise you’ll miss reaching donors who don’t or rarely use electronic channels.

In addition, be smart about what you send and who you send it to. If your fundraising letter isn’t generating the revenue you want, you might need to improve the content. You may also be sending it to a weak audience.

Clean up your lists before your next mailing,  Check for duplicate and returned addresses.  Segment your lists, too.  For example, only send your print newsletter to donors or take out lapsed donors and send them a targeted appeal.

Here’s an extreme example of a direct mail fail. Comcast Direct Mail Fail

Increase your printing and mailing budget

Can you budget more for printing and mailing?  This is often not as much of a priority as it should be.

If you can’t increase your current budget, find additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover these costs.


With a good color printer and the right software, you can produce materials in house. Be sure they look professional.

Find a sponsor

You could get a print shop to do your invitations or annual report pro bono.  It’s good publicity for them.

You often get sponsors for an event. Have a sponsor cover the cost of the invitations, as well.

Put a donation envelope in your print newsletter

You might recoup the cost of the mailing, as well as raise additional revenue.  Here’s what fundraising expert Tom Ahern recommends for your print newsletter. The Domain Formula for donor newsletters

Less is more

Your donors are busy and won’t have time to read long pieces. Shorter is better, both to capture your donor’s attention and to save on printing and mailing costs.  Stick to four pages max.

Use discounted mailing options

You may be eligible for special nonprofit rates. Special Prices for Nonprofit Mailers You could use standard or bulk mail for items that aren’t as time sensitive, such as newsletters or annual reports. Factor in how long it will take to mail, so your summer newsletter doesn’t arrive in October.  Only use first class mail for appeal letters and thank you letters.

Recruit volunteers and other staff to help with mailings

Just make sure they do quality work and don’t slap on crooked mailing labels or write illegible thank you notes.

It’s possible to print and mail without breaking your budget.  It does take some planning and prioritizing, but it should pay off if it allows you to connect with more donors.

Photo by Chris Potter at