Spelling Out the Steps to a Powerful Annual Appeal
Creating an annual appeal letter is business as usual for many nonprofit organizations. The challenge is that as the fiscal year draws to a close, nearly every nonprofit is seeking financial support at the same time. For supporters, this translates into mailbox and inbox overload and the challenging task of deciding which cause(s) to support.
Before sending your next appeal letter, take a step back and develop a strategy that breaks through the clutter, drives action and inspires meaningful change.
Quantify the impact your organization has had on the community it serves. How many people did you help this year? How many new programs did you launch?
Make your mission personal. Stories are about people. Focus on a central character or anecdote, and use the story to further emphasize your organization’s importance and impact.
Relate to your audience. Nonprofits do many great things in their communities. The question is, what matters most to the person reading your appeal letter?
Get creative. Who says annual appeal letters have to come in No. 10 envelopes? Who says they can’t be written by a client?
Increase your reach. Consider sending an electronic appeal in addition to a hard-copy letter. Include links for recipients to share the appeal across their own social channels.
Incentivize readers to donate. Will a corporate partner match individual donations? Will the donor’s name be listed on a commemorative plaque?
Follow the pack. Who says annual appeal letters have to be sent at the close of the fiscal or calendar year?
Pen a short novel. Short, sweet and to the point will do the trick.
Use graphics to enhance the story. People’s attention spans are limited, and their time is precious.
Make the appeal the sole touchpoint with key funders for the year. It is much easier to ask for and secure donations from those who have an ongoing relationship with the organization.
Forget to put the ask in context. What did your organization do with the funds raised last year? Let readers know how their dollars are making a difference and how they can grow with the organization.
Forget to say thank you. A little gratitude can have a big impact on how potential donors perceive an organization.
Annual appeal letter checklist
Use this checklist to plan out your annual appeal.
Hook: How do you reel in prospective donors and meet the fundraising goals for your appeal? With an irresistible hook. Hooks come in many shapes and sizes and should be carefully crafted to appeal to and resonate with target audiences. This is the foundation of your appeal letter and the biggest opportunity to stand out from the competition.
Supporting anecdote: Stories are about people. The best stories focus around a central character and are easy for target audiences to relate to. Luckily, nonprofits have no shortage of great stories to share. Talk with staff, volunteers, board members, strategic partners, key funders and other audiences to find out what experiences have impacted them the most. These are keen insights that can help you select the right anecdote to resonate with the right audience(s).
Community/client impact: Supporters want to know that their donations are making a difference. Whether they donate $50 to a specific program or make an in-kind gift of goods/services, people need to know how their donations will be put to work. Consider adding a sidebar of donation equivalencies to your appeal to help people understand how easy it is to make an impact while reinforcing the fact that every dollar counts.
Desired action/outcome: In the content-marketing era, there is no shortage of great information. The question is, what do you want people to do with it? When crafting your appeal letter, don’t assume anything. Whether you want people to share an electronic appeal with five friends via email, share your appeal video on their social networks or commit to a monthly donation amount, spell it out and make it enticing.
Ways to donate: Want people to donate? Make it easy. As in “one click of the mouse” or “one check mark with the pen” easy. While cross-platform conversions are difficult to encourage, it is still important for people receiving a printed appeal letter to know that they can donate online and vice-versa.
If your appeal is compelling, people may talk it up to friends and colleagues or commend your work on social networks. Make sure they have an easy way to tie in a donation portal. List these mediums and methods in your checklist or planogram to ensure donation opportunities are prominently incorporated.
Other opportunities to engage: Beyond donating in response to your appeal letter, how can people support your cause? Can they volunteer, host a fundraiser, serve on a board? You get the idea. It is much easier to secure donations from parties with whom you have an ongoing relationship as opposed to only communicating with them when you need or want money. Help prospective and current donors develop a stronger connection to your cause and become lifelong advocates for your mission. A short, bulleted list will suffice in the checklist or planogram.
Subsequent touchpoints: When planning out your appeal letter, list the communication channels you will use to maintain consistent contact with your donor pool. Identify opportunities to weave the communications together — be it with theme, by proving program/success updates, or increasing recipients’ exposure to and understanding of the work your organization does in the community.
Show of gratitude: Did your parents and teachers always tell you to mind your manners? When acknowledging annual-appeal donations, the same rules apply. Perhaps it is a handwritten thank-you note or shout-outs on Twitter. Regardless of the medium, map out a follow-up and thank-you strategy in your annual appeal letter checklist or planogram.