How to Get Ready for Your Year-End Appeal

Image result for free images for get readyCan you believe we’re already halfway through August? Like it or not, September will be here before you know it.

Fall is a busy time for nonprofits, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal. You don’t need to mourn the end of summer yet, but you should start planning for your year-end appeal.

Many nonprofits rely on their year-end appeal for a good portion of their revenue so you want it to be successful. Use this checklist to help you get started. You can also use this for fundraising campaigns at other times of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal in your 2019 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’ll use. Make it as detailed as possible.

When do you want to launch your appeal?  I think earlier is better. Remember, you’re also competing with countless other organizations who are doing appeals. If you can get yours out by the end of October, you may be ahead of the game. 

Figure out what you need to get done and how long it will take. Keep in mind things usually take longer than you think. If you want to launch your appeal by November 1, make your goal October 20.

Also, how are you mailing your appeal? You may need to recruit extra volunteers or get your materials to a mail house.

An Annual Appeal Fundraising Timeline You Can Use

13 End-of-Year Appeal Strategies

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.

Tell the Stories Your Donors Want to Hear

Entice Your Donors With Visual Stories

How did/can 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 a tutoring program. Let your donors know that thanks to them, 85% of the students in your program are now reading at or above their grade level. Next year you’d like to expand to five more schools.

Focus on the people you serve and show how your donors are helping you make a difference or can help you make a difference. Don’t brag about your organization.

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, now is a good time to segment your mailing lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. This is so important! You should have more success if you can personalize your appeal letters.

Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?

Don’t wait until October to check your supply of letterhead and envelopes. Make sure you have enough. Perhaps you want to produce a special outer envelope. You may also want to create some thank you cards.

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 their last gift.

Stamps are more personal so you might want to find 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 homepage and include a prominent Donate Now button.

Donation Page Best Practices For Nonprofits; Tips for Great Donation Pages

Examples Of Great Nonprofit Donation Pages

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.

How To Create Donation Tiers That Drive Donations

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

Instead of offering premiums, see if you can find a major donor who will match any upgrades. I know of an organization that used 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. I highly recommend a monthly giving program if you don’t already have one.

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.

Incorporating Monthly Giving Into Your Fundraising

How will you thank your donors?

Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal letter and write them at the same time. You need to thank your donors, and thank them well, as soon as you receive their gifts so have a thank you letter/note ready to go.

Handwritten notes and phone calls are much better than a preprinted letter. Create or buy some thank you cards (see above) and start recruiting board members and volunteers to make thank you calls or write notes. Put together a thank you plan to help you with this.

How will you keep up with your donor communication?

Even though you’ll be busy with your appeal, you want to ramp up your donor communication this fall. Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing success stories and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation! You could create a thank you video or hold an informal open house. Just don’t disappear until appeal time.

What are you doing to get ready for your year-end appeal?


#Nonprofits, Keep Doing Your Good Work!


I’m still in shock over the U.S.election. I had planned to submit a post today and mulled over whether I should wait until tomorrow. Somehow a post about donor communication seems trivial, even though it’s not. But it can wait.

How do we deal with uncertainty the next four years brings us?  Some of you may want to delve into your work to take your mind off things. Others will need a break to process this. Do whatever you need to take care of yourself.

Nonprofits, we need you more than ever. Don’t stop doing all the good things you do – for women, families, children, people of color, immigrants, the LBGTQ community, homeless people, the environment, etc.

Keep doing your good work!

Beware of Bright Shiny Objects

3214060741_db8c069c72_mIt can be tempting to jump on the latest craze and try something new. But that bright shiny object may not be the answer you’re looking for.

In fact, you can be more successful in your fundraising and communications if you use methods that have been around for awhile. Here’s how.

Give your donors the personal touch

We have lots of different ways to communicate with donors, many of them electronic. Electronic communication is great because you can get a message out to many people in an instant.

But technology isn’t always our friend. Often these electronic messages don’t sound like they’re coming from a human.

Hardly anyone writes personal letters anymore but imagine your donors’ surprise when they receive a personal, handwritten thank you note from you. Delight Donors and Volunteers With Hand-Written Thank You Notes

Another more personal way to communicate is to give your donors a call to say thank you. Thank You Calls as a Donor Retention Tool: 6 Steps to Success

In this age of automation, we need to be more personal.  

Make retention and relationship building part of your fundraising plan

Most nonprofit organizations rely on fundraising for the bulk of their revenue. It’s not easy to raise money, especially if you spend more time focusing on finding new donors than keeping the ones you already have.

You might think you can take a break after a big fundraising campaign, but your work has just begun. Thank your donors right away and continue to stay in touch throughout the year with donor-centered newsletters and other updates.

If you keep churning through donors and have a high attrition rate, you need to do a better job of building relationships. It’s not hard, but you have to work at it. This link includes a quick way for you to figure out your donor retention rate A Guide to Donor Retention, and here are a few ways to build relationships with your donors throughout the year. How Are You Building Relationships?

Your new donors are closer than you think

Of course, you’ll need new donors. You’ll have more success if you reach out to people who already know you. Potential donors are your newsletter subscribers, social media followers, event attendees, friends of board members, and volunteers.

You can cultivate these supporters by communicating regularly and showing how you are making a difference for the people you serve. If you do it well, you should have a good chance of getting them to donate.

Unfortunately, not everyone is interested in your organization. That’s why buying lists is not the best way to fundraise. Find people who will be drawn to your cause.

It’s also not enough to find people with money(forget about trying to woo Bill Gates). If you want more major donors, work with your board and other donors. Connections always help.

Again, it comes down to good old-fashioned relationship building, something most organizations need to improve.

So, beware of bright shiny objects and focus on more personal communication and building relationships.

We Can’t Afford This


How often do you say that? I understand. Many nonprofits are stretched thin, But what are you saying you can’t afford to do? It may be something you should be doing.

Here are a couple of areas that you may be neglecting that I believe you can’t afford not to invest in.

You need a good database

If you’re using Excel instead of a database because it’s free, stop doing that. A spreadsheet is not a database. Your Worst Fundraising Enemy

A good database won’t be free, but there are affordable options for small organizations. Compare Non-Profit Software  You don’t want to limit yourself by choosing a database that can only hold a certain amount of records or can only be used on one computer because you don’t want to pay for additional licences.

A good database can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by amount and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25.

A good database can help you with retention, which will save you money since it costs less to keep donors than to acquire new ones. You can personalize your letters and email messages. No more Dear Friend. You can welcome new donors and thank donors for their previous support. You can send targeted mailings to lapsed donors to try to woo them back. You can record any personal information, such as conversations you had with a donor and their areas of interest.

Don’t cut corners when it comes to your donor data. You can’t afford to do that.

You need to use direct mail more often

If you never or rarely use direct mail, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the mammoth amount of email and social media posts you receive as opposed to postal mail. Your donors will be more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail.

If money is tight, you don’t have to mail that often. Quality trumps quantity but aim for at least four times a year.

Put some thought into what you send. Some ideas, besides appeal letters, include thank you cards; Thanksgiving, holiday, or Valentine’s Day cards (I received a very nice Valentine’s Day card from an organization); infographic postcards; and two to four-page newsletters and annual/progress reports. You could put a donation envelope in your newsletter to raise some additional revenue, but don’t put one in a thank you or holiday card  Shorter is better. Lengthy communication will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it.

A few ways you can use direct mail without breaking your budget are to clean up your mailing lists to avoid costly duplicate mailings, spread thank you mailings throughout the year – perhaps to a small number of donors each month, and look into special nonprofit mailing rates. You may also be able to get print materials done pro bono or do them in-house, as long as they look professional.

Of course, you can use email and social media, but your primary reason for communicating that way shouldn’t be because it’s cheaper. It should be because that’s what your donors use. If your donors prefer to communicate by mail, then you should too.

Make a smart investment

You often need to spend money to raise money. Perhaps you need to reallocate your budget to cover some of these expenses. You could also look into additional sources of unrestricted funding.

Don’t limit yourself by saying you can’t afford to do something important. Making smart investments should pay off in the long run.

Photo via Pictures of Money


But Why?


If you’ve ever spent time with little kids you know one of their favorite words is why. You’ll answer a question, and she’ll respond with “but why?” again and again…… It may start to get annoying, but it’s good for people of all ages to be inquisitive and ask questions.

This applies to nonprofits, too. A lot of our communication isn’t focused on why something is important. The typical fundraising letter and newsletter article ramble on about accomplishments with no explanation of why something matters.

As you work on your messages, pretend your donor is a four-year-old who keeps asking “but why?” over and over again.

Why is what you do important?

Here’s something you might see in a newsletter or annual report.

We expanded our tutoring program to four more high schools.

Okay, but why is that important?

To serve more students.

That’s good, but why is that important?

After six months of weekly tutoring sessions, 85% of the students in our program have improved their math skills.

There you go.Tell your donors about the impact you’re making.

Why should someone donate to your organization?

Do your appeals focus on why it’s important to donate to your organization?  Instead of saying something generic like please donate to our annual appeal, tell a story emphasizing why someone should donate to your organization.

David, a 9th grader at Baker High School, always hated math and was barely passing his algebra class. “Algebra is stupid. I don’t get it,” he complained.Then David started weekly tutoring sessions with Matt, a volunteer tutor. It was a struggle at first, but thanks to Matt’s patience and guidance, David got a B on his last test.

Again, focus on why.

Why is your donor’s gift valuable?

When you thank your donors, do you tell them why their gift is valuable?  Give a specific example.

Thank you so much.Your generous gift of $50 will help cover the expenses of five one-to-one weekly tutoring sessions. After six months of these tutoring sessions, 85% of the students in our program have improved their math skills.

It’s all about the why.

Why do you appreciate your donors?

Finally, do your donors know why you appreciate them?

Thank you so much for doing your part in helping high school students boost their math skills. We couldn’t do this without you.

Start channeling your inner four-year-old and keep asking why.

Photo by Colin Kinner

Keep it Simple


Fundraiser Maeve Strathy recently wrote this great post – Explaining a Capital Campaign to a 3-year-old  Maeve is riding a streetcar in Toronto when they go past a hospital that’s undergoing massive renovations. A little boy nearby asks his mom what’s going on and she replies “They’re fixing the hospital. They’re making it better… and bigger.”  Wow, that’s a nice, simple explanation.

I like to use the example of pretending you’re at Thanksgiving dinner and Aunt Shirley asks what your organization does. Imagine her looking confused when you spew out terms like food insecurity or culture-focused projects. Imagine your donors doing the same thing.

While you’re unlikely to have any three-year-old donors, you have a lot of Aunt Shirleys, who don’t have a medical or social services background and aren’t going to use terms like at-risk populations.

Use language your donors will understand

When I read the term culture-focused projects in a nonprofit newsletter, I thought they meant art projects. But they were referring to students creating a flag from their “country of origin.” Why not tell a story about Lisa and Carla’s experience working on this project and include some quotes from the girls?

Instead of writing a lot of long-winded text about food insecurity, tell a story about how the Johnson family has to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

Rather than using one of my new least favorite terms – unbanked, say some people don’t have bank accounts.

Your goal is to be donor-centered, right?  Well, you’re not doing that when you use language your donors won’t understand.

Skip the fancy words, too. It makes you sound pretentious. You’re trying to impress your donors, not your English teacher. You don’t want them to have to find out what a word means. Most likely they won’t take the time to do that, and they’ll miss out on what you’re trying to say.

Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level

This is not dumbing down. Using clear, everyday language your donors will understand is a smart thing to do.

I wouldn’t rely too much on Word Grammar check, but the Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics can be helpful. Test your document’s readability You can also access it online if you don’t use Word.

Besides determining a grade level and reading ease, it flags passive sentences, which weaken your writing. Instead of saying 5,000 meals were served at our community dinners, say we served 5,000 meals at our community dinners.

Less is more

In Maeve’s post, she mentions the tendency to get verbose in our messages when we should be doing the opposite. You need to make your messages as clear and simple as possible. Sometimes that’s harder, but your goal is to get your donor to read and understand your message.

There’s no need to overthink it or use jargon.  Just keep it simple.

Photo by One Way Stock


What Does That Mean?

When you write an appeal, thank you letter, or newsletter article, are you throwing in terms like at-risk youth and underserved communities?   The problem with those terms is they’re broad and often meaningless. 
Here’s an example from a thank you letter I received from a social services agency. “As you already know, X organization serves individuals who are often the most disenfranchised members of their communities.” Yikes! What does that mean?
Let’s look at some 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. How To Follow in the Footsteps of Your Nonprofit’s Promise
At- risk
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.
I like this post How to Convince Your Boss to Let You Write Like a Human and some of the comments in which people describe their experiences of whether to say kids, children, or youth.
I’ve had that same discussion at different organizations.  We can say children and youth, but not kids because that’s too informal and demeaning.  

But why not say kids?  I’m sure most donors don’t refer to their children as youth.  Kids sounds warm and fuzzy and well, youth does not.
After having this debate, one of my colleagues said it made him think of the two yoots scene from the movie, My Cousin Vinnie.  
Disenfranchised means being stripped of power, rights, or privileges.  It’s often used when talking about voting rights.
I’m not sure the organization I quoted above used it correctly, but either way, it’s a mouthful. If your clients fall into this category, show how you are giving them a voice or giving them back their rights.
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.
Be careful not to just say services. The 3 Most Boring Words in Fundraising Appeals Again, tell a story or give a specific example.  Sandra isn’t able send her daughter Lisa to a good preschool because there isn’t an affordable one nearby.
Making a difference or changing lives
Yes, you need to show your donors how you are making a difference, but you can’t just say your organization is making a difference or changing lives.
How are you doing that, and why is it important?  Maybe you’re helping families find affordable housing so they don’t have to live in a shelter, motel, or their car.  Now they have a place to call home.
Use language your donors will understand
Most of your donors don’t use these terms when they talk to their friends and neither should you when you communicate with them.  Use language they’ll understand.
Do you have any terms to add to this list?
Photo by Colin Kinner via Flickr