5 Down & Dirty Tips to Ramp up Your End-of-Year Appeal

November 11, 2009

It’s already November, and, if you’re working for an understaffed agency with too much to do and not enough time or resources, think twice before you regurgitate last year’s annual appeal letter and call it a day.

First off, ask yourself a few questions:

Will you be mailing out your letters in-house or using a mail house? If you’re using a mail house, what is their timeframe for getting the appeal out within your time frame?

Will you be segmenting your mailing? By that I mean will you be mailing the same appeal to your board members as to your donors?

Who will be signing the letter? In my opinion, you never want your development director signing your appeal letter.  Depending upon the theme of your letter, the appropriate signer should be your Executive Director, CEO, Board Chair or even a volunteer.

How long will your letter be? You’d be surprised (or maybe not 🙂 at what an issue this can become.  Testing done by organizations far larger than any I have ever worked with consistently shows that longer letters perform better.  Yet executive directors and your board of directors will be urging you to go with a one-page letter.  Why?  Who knows!  The truth is that a compelling, 2-4 page letter will outperform a 1 page letter every time.

Note that I said “compelling.”

What does make a compelling end of year appeal letter?  What kind of letter makes the reader walk away from the trash basket, where they have been sorting their mail, sit down, read to the end and pull out their checkbook?

I’ll give you a hint.  You won’t get that kind of letter by penning the kind of letter that every other nonprofit organization is sending out.  You won’t get it by bragging about your past accomplishes, by expressing your need for funding for next year’s programming or by whining about the economy and its affect on your organization.

People respond to people.  It’s why they watch Oprah, it’s why they open their wallets.  Whatever your organization may be, it has so many amazing stories – use them! Don’t be afraid either, depending upon the quality of your printing, of using a judicious photograph or two within the body of the letter.  Photographs make a story come alive.

What will your reply device look like? Every direct mail piece needs a reply device. While you don’t need to hire a graphic designer, you do need a piece that will replicate the donor’s name and address and provide check off “ask” amounts.

What kind of return envelope will you use? Will you make your donor put a stamp on it? Or will you use a business reply indicia?

Five Tips to Ramp it Up

  1. Brainstorm for new connections. While segmenting your mailing list, think about other connections you may not have utilized in the past.  When I ran a membership campaign for a regional EMS provider, I targeted the local business – to great results.  Have you approached your vendors, area businesses or volunteers?  Mass email your board for additional suggestions.  By the way:  Never include foundation funders in your annual appeal.
  2. When writing, Use I and You (but mostly you).  One of the many take-aways from Mal Warwick.  This is an appeal from one person to another – not a white paper.  You’re not writing for your college English prof; write conversationally.
  3. Bring in the Board.  I have traditionally – and this will depend upon the size of your list – provided all of my board members with a listing of donors who have typically given over a certain amount three to four weeks ahead of the scheduled mailing date.  I then schedule, within a one to two week time-frame, times for board members to hand-write notes on selected letters.
  4. Include a P.S. Our P.S.? What are you talking about?  We don’t use a P.S.!  Time to start.  Your P.S. and even P.P.S. are generally the first things your prospective donor will read.  Make your P.S. every bit as compelling as your letter.  One of the best ways to start your P.S.?  “Thank you again for …”
  5. Handling everything in-house? If you don’t have the funds for a graphic designer, have no fear.  Times are tough.  Good graphic design can be had for a song by contracting with someone on craigslist.   Post your request in “gigs” and watch your in-box flood with responses

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott VanDeusen November 17, 2009 at 6:43 am

Some interesting and tested thoughts. I would challenge one assertion however – that longer letters work better. I know that testing has shown that to be the case and have seen those results but question both the process used to get them and the segmentation that they were testing.

My testing on this same subject area has found that the most effective letter is not a multiple page letter but an informative and engaging letter. Older populations will respond better to a longer letter than a shorter letter not because the letter is longer but because it is very difficult to make a case for support and illustrated story to support it in one page. Younger populations (and yes even last years college graduates will respond effectively to the dinosaur of direct mail) do not respond as effectively to the longer letter.

Instead, try segmenting them out, shorten the letter to provide the start of the story and then direct them to facebook for the “rest of the story”, ask them to join your page as a fan and make a gift to support you through the web on both facebook and the reply device.

That will provide lift to your social networking page, connect with your younger supporters where they are and provide the highest probability of getting gifts.

Theresa November 17, 2009 at 9:43 am

We have found that instead of a letter, a jazzy flyer with a few well-placed graphics and a tear off coupon on the bottom gets a great response. It may be that we are soliciting for funding for our emeergency department that has made our appeal successful, but I think the fact that it is an easy to read and digest piece helps too.

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