Stand Out With an Amazing Appeal Letter

6981610977_83fbb8a0a7_m

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.

Dazzle Your Donors With a Great Story

Capture Your Donors’ Attention in an Instant by Using Visual Stories

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.

Be donor-centered

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.

How to Write a Better Fundraising Letter

Cutting Through the Clutter of Year-End Appeals

[INFOGRAPHIC] How To Write An Annual Fundraising Appeal Letter

Photo by Modestas Jonauskas

 

Advertisements

Are You Ready for Your Year-End Appeal?

19248682754_c332a27012_m

You may think fall is a long way off. We just celebrated Independence Day in the U.S. and temperatures are creeping into the 90’s.

Don’t let that deceive you. 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. Get a jump start on your appeal and start planning it now. Use this checklist to help you get started. Of course, you can use this for fundraising campaigns at any time of the year.

How much money do you need to raise?

You may have already set a goal in your 2016 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? At 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.

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.

Dazzle Your Donors With a Great Story

Capture Your Donors’ Attention in an Instant by Using Visual Stories

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 a tutoring program. Let your donors know how with their help 80% of the students in your program are now reading at or above their grade level. Next year you’d like to expand to four more schools.

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

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 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 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 last year’s 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.

Elements of Donation Page Design

19 Ways to Raise More Money From Donation Pages

While you are at it, check your website for out-of-date information and broken links.

Is Your Website in Good Shape?

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.

Using Giving Levels to Drive Donations

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 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. 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?

Don’t skimp on this. Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal letter. You need to thank your donors, and thank them well, as soon as you receive their gifts.

Handwritten notes and phone calls are much better than a pre-printed 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.

Give Your Donors a Great Thank You Experience

Are you showing the love?

Even though you’ll be busy with your appeal, you want to ramp up your donor communication.  Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing success stories and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation and create a thank you video or hold an informal open house.

How are you getting ready for your year-end appeal?

Photo by James Stoneking

Why Does Giving to Your Organization Feel Like a Transaction and Not a Relationship?

506328659_22260c5bb2_zFor the last couple of years, I’ve done my year-end giving online on #GivingTuesday.  The day before I purchased Christmas gifts on Cyber Monday, and there wasn’t much difference in the process.

Is it #GivingTuesday or Asking Tuesday?

On #GivingTuesday I was inundated with emails asking for donations, just like the day before I was barraged with emails from Amazon and Zappos.  I know organizations are trying to capitalize on #GivingTuesday, but it was more like Asking Tuesday.

I was told I only had a few hours left to give. Really?  But this isn’t the only day to give. If you’re going to stress urgency, focus on the need of your recipients and not your organization.

I saw very few hints of any type of relationship. Only one organization recognized me as a past donor. Your generosity makes the work we do possible

Many emails began with the dreaded Dear Friend.  Some of these came from large organizations that should be able to afford a database that personalizes salutations.

Some organizations stressed the importance of being a part of #GivingTuesday.  Why is that important? I would rather be a part of helping you make a difference for the people you serve.

Your donors don’t want to receive an appeal when they’ve already donated.  At the very least include a thank you like this – We want to extend a huge THANK YOU to those who have already given.

You can do better by opening your appeal with a story and thanking donors for their past support. Give donors a compelling reason to give and focus more on the relationship and not the transaction.

I’m not the only one who felt this way.  COULD DECEMBER BE THE MONTH WHEN YOU WILL LOSE THE MOST DONORS?

A receipt is not a thank you

When I shop online, I don’t expect the receipt I receive to be as warm and fuzzy as the sweaters I just purchased, but I do expect something personal after I make a donation.

Your thank you landing page is a chance for you to make a good first impression and that doesn’t always happen, especially on some third party sites.

Here’s an example that’s pretty blah.

DONATION CONFIRMED
Thank you for your generous gift to
DONATION SUMMARY AND RECEIPT

.

This one’s a little better, although I would nix the On the behalf of ……

Thank You!

On behalf of the Board of Trustees and staff at X, thank you for your generous online contribution.


Even better

Thank you Ann!

None of the email thank you messages I received knocked my socks off. Here are two openings that are particularly bad.

Thank you for making a donation to x

Here’s an acknowledgment – you should keep this for your records:


 

Thank you for your donation to x

If you have any questions about your donation, please email x and reference number 151201134525.

Yes, I’m feeling the love right now.

But all hope is not lost. I received a follow up thank you email a few days later with the subject line

You #CrushedIt on Giving Tuesday

Almost every online donation I made felt like a transaction. I know you need to include the donation summary and tax ID information, but put that at the end of your thank letter, after you tell your donors they’re amazing.

Donor Relations Guru Lynne Webster has some additional insights #GivingTuesday 2015, and here are some ways to give your donors a better thank you experience. Don’t Treat Thanking Your Donors as an Afterthought

Keep this in mind for all your appeals, especially the ones you send at the end of December.

Focus on the relationship, not the transaction.

Photo by Paul Downey

How Employee Matching Gifts Can Help Your Fundraising Team Succeed

8463683689_baa33ca431_z

Guest Post by Adam Weinger

Many of you are gearing up for your year-end fundraising campaign. It’s never easy to raise money, but you may have overlooked a simple way to bring in more donations – Matching Gifts.

This guest post by Adam Weinger gives you some great tips to help you incorporate matching gifts into your fundraising.

Your nonprofit likely feels like it is doing all that it can to raise money to keep your organization’s engine running. While you may be bringing in a lot of money from your new and dedicated donors, did you know you could receive twice as many donations?

No, you don’t have to ask donors for money a second time. All you have to do is let your donors know about matching gift programs!

Matching gifts are donations that companies and businesses will make after an employee has made a contribution and submitted the relevant request forms. While companies have different deadlines and caps on these donations, your nonprofit can still take advantage of the opportunity to double the amount of contributions you receive.

The following three tips can help your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts go from good to great with an assist from matching gifts!

1. Incorporate matching gifts into your fundraising events.

Your organization probably holds amazing events that bring your donors together with each other and members of your team. But you can also use the opportunity at these events to let your donors know about matching gifts.

If your nonprofit hosts an annual gala or auction, have one of your presenters talk briefly about matching gifts during a speech. When your donors are aware that their donations can go twice as far with little effort on their part, they will be more likely to continue giving to your organization and have their employers match those donations.

2. Let donors know about matching gifts through multiple channels.

You already communicate with donors in different ways. Use those avenues to let donors know about matching gifts!

Make use of:

  • Social media: Keep posts short and to the point. Donors don’t want to see a novel on their news feeds. Include links to more information and incorporate graphics if you can.
  • Email newsletters: If you’re already using email newsletters to keep donors in the loop about projects and events, use the space to promote matching gifts. Just like on social media, incorporate links to more information as well as graphics.
  • Direct mail: Some donors prefer opening letters to opening their inbox. Keep these donors in mind when promoting matching gifts.
  • Your website: Donors who find their way to your website are obviously interested in learning more about your organization and may want to make a donation right then and there. Therefore, you should include information about matching gifts on your “Ways to Give” page and include matching gift options and information on donation screens.

While there are many other ways to interact with your donors, you can use your existing communication methods to promote matching gifts to them.

3. Keep in touch with donors.

After you’ve acquired a new donor and have received a matching gift from their employer, make sure that you say thanks and stay in touch.

Donors like to feel appreciated. Your nonprofit can show your gratitude by thanking individuals for their initial donation as well as their employer’s matched donation.

Sometimes, those matched contributions take weeks or even months to process before they make it into your nonprofit’s hands. When you thank donors for submitting their matching gift requests to their employers after you receive the matched donation, you not only show your gratitude, but you are also reminding donors that they can continue to have their future donations matched by their employers.

Many employers also have deadlines for submitting matching gift requests. Make sure your nonprofit is sending out prompt thank yous after a donation is made that encourage donors to have their donations doubled as soon as possible if they didn’t submit a request immediately after making the initial contribution.

Matching gifts can give your fundraising efforts a major boost. Whether you choose to promote matching gifts at an event, through your existing communication channels, or in your follow-up acknowledgements, your fundraising team can achieve matching gift success.

About Adam Weinger

Adam Weinger - Square Reduced File Size

Adam Weinger is the President of Double the Donation, the leading provider of tools to nonprofits to help them raise more money from corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs. Connect with Adam via email or on LinkedIn.

How to Plan a Multi-Channel Fundraising Campaign

9302746500_abac718b17

We have many ways to reach out to our donors – by mail, email, social media, and phone calls. But your fundraising campaign will be more effective if you use a combination of these.

Some donors may respond to your direct mail piece but donate online. Others will see your email message but prefer to send a check. Some donors will respond to the first appeal while others need a few reminders. This is why you need a multi-channel campaign.

BEFORE YOU START

Clean up your mailing lists

If you haven’t already done so, clean up and organize your mailing lists.

Make it easy to donate online

You must have a donation page that’s engaging and easy to use. Test all links in email messages and social media posts. The last thing you want is a donor contacting you about a broken link or have to hunt around on your website for a link to your donation page.

When you’re ready to launch your campaign, include a blurb on your homepage that your appeal is underway. Make sure your donate button is in a prominent place.

Consistency is key

Your messages need to be consistent across channels. Use the same story and call to action in direct mail, email, and on your website.

Everything you send needs to look like it’s coming from the same organization.

Which channels do your donors use?

Don’t spend a lot of time on channels your donors aren’t using. Figure out in advance where you want to focus your efforts.

SAMPLE SCHEDULE AND STRATEGY

Come up with a schedule of when the appeals will go out. I’ve created a sample schedule below. Of course, you can adjust the timeframe as needed.

October 21

Give your supporters a heads up by email and social media. Let them know your year-end appeal is underway and they should receive a letter from you soon. Encourage them to donate online right now. This means your donation page needs to be in great shape.

Week of October 26

Mail your appeal letter.

Week of November 2

Start sending follow-up reminders via email and social media. If possible, don’t send reminders to people who have already donated. Otherwise, be sure to thank your recent donors. You can even phrase your reminders as more of a thank you or an update.

Thanks so much to all of you who donated to our year-end appeal. We’re almost halfway to our goal. If you haven’t donated yet, please help us out today by visiting our website (include a link to your donation page) or sending us a check (provide address). 

Week of November 9

Send out another reminder. Your donors are busy and may need a gentle prompt.  Keep it positive. Don’t make your donors feel bad about not donating yet.

Week of November 16

Start making reminder calls. If time is an issue, you could just call people who have donated before. That’s probably most effective.

Week of November 23

Send a Happy Thanksgiving message along with a friendly reminder. Share a success story in your appeal.

Week of November 30

December 1 is #GivingTuesday so you could tie that into your reminder.

The rest of December and beyond

Keep sending reminders throughout December. It’s tricky because you want to get your message across without being annoying.  Be sure to keep sending your newsletter and other updates. You don’t want the only messages your donors receive to be fundraising appeals.

The end of December is the busiest time of the fundraising season.  Network for Good recommends sending an email reminder on December 23, 29 or 30, and 31. This is especially relevant if your fiscal year ends on December 31 or your donor wants to give before the end of the calendar year.

Look to see who hasn’t contributed yet. Concentrate on people who are most likely to donate, such as past donors.  You may need to send another mailing to donors who don’t use electronic communication. Also, keep track of how many donors come through each channel.

We live in a multi-channel world. Take time to plan your strategy to ensure a successful year-end campaign.

Here’s a great resource to help you with your multi-channel fundraising.

Multi-Channel Fundraising Campaign Worksheet

Image by Daniel Iverson

Something’s Missing

433099854_9c4780f461_z

As the year-end giving season approaches, you may notice more activity from nonprofits in your mailbox and email inbox.

Take notice. You can learn a lot about what do to and what not to do when you communicate with donors.  Unfortunately, I see too many instances where organizations can do better.  It seems like something’s missing.

After I recently opened a one-page communication from an organization, my reactions were:

Why are you sending me this?

I wasn’t sure of the purpose of the piece. The organization may have been trying to connect before they sent out their year-end appeal, which is great. That’s something you need to do.  They share some accomplishments, so maybe it was sort of a mini annual report.  It wasn’t obvious.

It wasn’t very personal either, and I think a short, warm introduction would have helped.  They could have used the back side if they needed more space.

I’m a donor. Make me feel special.

The only example of donor-centered language was “Your Support of X Organization Makes Our Work Possible!”

They mention the number of donors who supported their work, but there’s no explicit thank you. That’s a must.

Why is what you do important?

Many nonprofits fall short in this area.  The piece included lots of numbers, but not much detail of why what they’re sharing is important. They talk about making a difference, yet there aren’t any specific examples of how they’re doing that.

They state that “more than 50 households have signed up at a new food pantry site.” Why is that important?  What would happen if these families didn’t have access to this food pantry?  Would they go to bed hungry, or have to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill?

What does that mean? 

They describe what they do as “X organization addresses critical needs and emerging trends to create an equitable [community}.”  Huh?

Then I received a fundraising email from a different organization, which gave me an empty feeling because:

They never connected during the year.

The only time I supported this organization was when I attended one of their events last March.  They never sent any type of follow up.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine.  If you hold an event, thank your donors, let them know how their support makes a difference and stay in touch throughout the year.

It wasn’t personal.

There was no salutation, and they didn’t thank me for my past support. The appeal lists what a donation will fund, but doesn’t indicate why that’s important.

There’s too much emphasis on the end of the fiscal year.

The email opened with “It’s the end of our fiscal year, please consider donating by midnight September 30 ….” It felt more like Land’s End telling me this is my last chance to get 30% off.

I know your fiscal year is important to you, but it may not mean much to your donors.  What your donors care about is how they can help you make a difference.

As you work on your year-end appeals and other communication, ask:

  • What is the purpose of this letter/email?  Is it to ask for a donation?  Is it to share an update?  Is that clear?
  • Is this donor-centered?
  • Are you showing gratitude, and thanking donors for their past gifts?
  • Is this warm and personal/conversational?
  • Are we letting our donors know why what we do is important?

Don’t let your donors come away thinking something’s missing.

Photo by Nicholas Noyes

Give Your Donors the Royal Treatment

11715533163_0316b42569_zIn my last post, I wrote about the importance of welcoming your new donors and keeping them happy so they won’t leave after one year, as many do. But it’s equally important to show the love to your current donors.

You may think your most valuable donors are the ones who give the most money, but what about the people who have supported your organization for three, five, or even ten years?  These are your valuable donors, considering repeat donor retention rates are about 65%.

Pay attention to your retention

Donor retention often takes a backseat to finding new donors. That doesn’t make much sense since an “easier” way to raise revenue is to get your current donors to give again and give at a higher level.

This won’t happen if you ignore your donors or only communicate when you ask for money. Yes, you’ll need to find new donors, but spend more time keeping the ones you already have.

Before your next big appeal figure out your retention rate A Guide to Donor Retention, and how long each donor has supported you.

This is your first step to help you keep your current donors. Here’s what else you need to do.

Stay on your donors’ good side

I know you’re swamped trying to get your year-end appeal out, but this is not the time to scale back on your donor communication.  Continue to send your newsletter and other updates. Keep them donor-centered.

Send a special note of gratitude this fall, maybe a month or so before you send your year-end appeal.

Get personal

Personalize your appeal letters and thank you letters. Your donors have names, so don’t address them as Dear Friend.

I’m a big fan of the Whiny Donor (@thewhiny donor).  In the following post she describes how she’s been supporting her alma mater for 24 years and in turn received a thank you letter with the salutation Dear [College] Supporter.  That prompted her to stop giving. You’re bound to blow it with a donor or two…This may not happen to you, but why risk it.

Don’t send the same generic letter to everyone. You must recognize past gifts. Thank donors for their past gift in your appeal letter and a repeat gift in your thank you letter.

While on the personal theme, make sure your letters sound like they’re written by a human, not a robot.

Pour on the gratitude

Thank you phone calls and handwritten notes always trump a pre-printed letter.  I realize you may not have the resources to call or send cards to all your donors. Figure out what you can do, but if you have donors that have supported you for more than two years, that s a big deal, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Find board members, other staff, and volunteers to help.  Perhaps you can only call donors who have given for at least three years.

If you do need to send a pre-printed thank you letter, again make it warm and personal.

You’ve only just begun

Stay in touch throughout the year.  Continue to show gratitude and let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference.

Give your donors the royal treatment, so they’ll stay with you for many years.

Photo by Dennis Jarvis