Annual Appeal Letter 101

You want to create an annual appeal letter that captures your donors’ attention right away and convinces them to donate. Sounds simple, but it’s not. Here are some ways to ensure a successful letter.

First impressions count
First, you need to get your donor to open your letter. Give some thought to the outside envelope. You could include a teaser. 

You want to be both personal and professional. If hand addressing the envelopes is not feasible, make sure your mailing labels look clean, are typo-free, and aren’t crooked. Use stamps if you can.

Create an inviting piece of mail.

Start with a story
Start your letter with a compelling story. Focus on a person or family and not on your organization. 

Rosie’s Place, a nonprofit that helps poor and homeless women in Boston, recently sent an appeal letter in which a client told her story in the first person. That’s another option.

Your donors want to hear about the people they are helping.

Use a photo
Include an engaging color photo in your letter or on your pledge form. Photos can tell a story in an instant.

Here is more information on creating stories and photos.

You gotta ask
Ask for a donation at the beginning of the next paragraph (after the story).

Ask for a little more
Also, ask donors if they can give a little more this year.

Phrase your ask like this – We are so grateful for your previous gift of $50.  Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?

If you have been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year, they shouldn’t mind if you ask for a larger gift.

BTW, including the amount of the donor’s previous gift is helpful since people often don’t remember what they gave before.  Be sure the information is correct so you avoid a mistake like this. Let’s Help A Nonprofit Radio Listener

It’s all about the donor
It’s not about your organization. Show how are you are making a difference and how much you appreciate your donor’s role in that.
Make your donor feel good about supporting your nonprofit.

What’s going on?
Highlight a few accomplishments from the year and show how you plan to continue your good work with your donor’s help.

Make it personal
Send separate letters to people who have donated before and thank them for supporting you. You can also tailor letters to other groups such as people on your mailing list who haven’t donated yet, event attendees, volunteers, and friends of board members. Remember, 

Your letter should have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend.

Make it easy to give 
Include a return envelope with amounts to check off or an envelope and a pledge form. Show what each amount will fund. Here’s an example. About Countdown to Summer

In addition, include a link to a user-friendly donation page on your website. Even if donors receive a letter, they will often donate online.

Offer a monthly giving option
Monthly gifts can generate more revenue
. Encourage your donors to give $10 or $20 a month. If they do, you are getting gifts over $100 each!

Make it easy to read
Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists. Use bold or color for key words, but keep it tasteful. Make it easy to read and scan. Use a simple font and keep in mind that 14 point is the new 12.

It’s fine to go over a page, especially if you are breaking up the text with a photo and short paragraphs. But don’t write a novel. You can also add a quote or short testimonial. These can be powerful and it helps break up the narrative.

Be conversational
Use a conversational tone and keep out terms like disenfranchised individuals and underserved communities. Use everyday language.

Refer to your reader as you and write as if you are talking to a friend. Keep it personal.

Too many editors spoil the appeal
Your entire staff shouldn’t need to be involved in creating the letter. Your best writer should craft it and then turn it over to your best editor. Whoever signs the letter (your Executive Director?) can take a quick look at it, but don’t go overboard. 

Not only does involving more people take extra time, it usually weakens the content. Keep it fresh.

All’s well that ends well
Repeat your ask at the end of the letter. Don’t forget to say please and thank you.

Add a PS
People often gravitate to the PS as they scan the letter. Here you could emphasize monthly giving or ask if their company provides matching gifts.

Get your pens out
Include a short handwritten note. Make it relevant to each donor, such as thanking her for a previous donation or letting him know it was nice to see him at a recent event.

Hand sign the letters in blue ink.

Are you ready?
Send out an annual appeal letter that will capture your donors’ attention and bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Need some more inspiration? Read on.

Photo by Lenore Edman via Flickr

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