Year-end appeal season is about to start. In some cases it already has. Many nonprofits rely on their fall fundraising campaign to raise a good chunk of revenue.
It’s never easy to raise money. It’s it even tougher when you’re competing with scores of other organizations for your donors’ attention, although many of these appeal letters are mediocre at best, as Fundraising Consultant Mary Calahane pointed out in a recent post. Warning: bad mail coming to a box near you
You can have an advantage if you stand out by creating an amazing appeal letter. Here’s how.
Make a good first impression
First, you need to get your donor to open your letter. Give some thought to the outer envelope. That doesn’t mean a teaser that says 2016 Annual Appeal. Instead, say something like Learn how you can help Jason boost his reading skills.
You want to be both personal and professional. If hand addressing the envelopes isn’t feasible, make sure your mailing labels look clean, are error-free, and aren’t crooked. Use stamps if you can.
Create an inviting piece of mail.
Tell me a story
Start your letter with a compelling story. Focus on a person or family and not your organization. Your donors want to hear about the people they’re helping. For example, you could tell a story about Jason and his struggles in school.
Include a photo
Include an engaging color photo in your letter or on your pledge form. Photos can tell a story in an instant.
Here’s more information on creating stories and photos.
Don’t bury your ask
Ask for a donation at the beginning of the next paragraph (after the story). Also, ask your current donors if they can give a little more this year.
Phrase your ask like this – We’re 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’ve 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 your donor’s previous gift is helpful since people often don’t remember what they gave before.
Don’t make your letter all about your organization. Show how you’re making a difference and how much you appreciate your donor’s role in that. Make your donor feel good about supporting your nonprofit.
Share your success
Highlight a few accomplishments from the year and show how you plan to continue your good work with your donor’s help. Remember to stay donor-centered!
Give it the personal touch
Send different letters to people who have donated before and thank them for supporting you. You can also tailor letters to other groups such as lapsed donors, people on your mailing list who haven’t donated yet, event attendees, volunteers, and friends of board members.
Make every effort to do this, especially for people who have given before. Go the extra mile for your donors, so they’ll continue to support you.
Your letter should also have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend.
Make it easy for your donors
Include a return envelope with amounts to check off or an envelope and a pledge form. Show what each amount will fund. Do this on your donation page, too. Using Giving Levels to Drive Donations
Some donors may prefer to donate online. Direct them to a user-friendly donation page on your website.
Offer a monthly or recurring giving option
Monthly gifts can generate more revenue. Encourage your donors to give $10 or $20 a month. If they do, you’re getting gifts over $100 each!
It must be easy to read (or scan)
Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists, along with bold or color for key words, but keep it tasteful. Make it easy to read and scan. Use a simple font and 14-point type.
It’s fine to go over a page, especially if you’re breaking up the text with a photo and short paragraphs, but I wouldn’t go over four pages. You can also add a quote or short testimonial. These can be powerful and it helps break up the narrative.
Have a conversation with a friend
Use a conversational tone and keep out jargon like at-risk youth and underserved communities. Be specific and use everyday language. Refer to your reader as you and use you a lot more than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?
Too many editors spoil the appeal
Generally, the more people you involve in writing your letter, the worse it becomes. Fundraising Consultant Tom Ahern refers to this as letter writing by committee.
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 send it to a committee.
Besides weakening the content, involving more people takes extra time.
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
Give some thought to this. 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, if you can. 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?
Stand out with an amazing appeal letter that will capture your donors’ attention and bring you the donations you need. Good luck!
Read on for more inspiration.
Photo by Modestas Jonauskas