The “how many letters should I send” debate is back in session.
If you are like most organizations, you continually have the same conversation every year. It’s summer, when you take the time to plan your ”End of Year” Appeal Calendar, and someone will ask, “How many letters should I send at year-end?” Then the question is, “how many emails?” Followed closely by, “is that too many emails?”
Let’s answer the question, “how many letters should I send?”
We know, when budgets are tight, two letters can seem extremely expensive. Sometimes the conversation changes from, “how many letters should I send?” to “how few letters can I send?” A lot of organizations are shifting to one letter, but more important is to see the letter as one element in the year-end appeal calendar. Before you eliminate one or all letters, consider what else you can change in the overall calendar.
If the decision is purely cost-based, ways to reduce costs on a letter include sending:
- One letter to everyone in your database and one postcard to non-responders who gave by post last year
- One letter to everyone
- One letter only to donors and LYBUNTs who gave by post last year
- Would one response card be less expensive than a tear off?
- Can it be two colors instead of multi-color?
Then include emails and social media for the balance of the campaign.
If the decision is based on time or staff constraints, there are other strategies I would implement. Email me and let me know your concerns. From there I can write you back with suggestions and/or write another article focusing on those issues.
How did your donors give last year?
I am a believer that letters encourage gifts – even online gifts. I believe that because I save the letters of the nonprofits I will donate to this year, bring them to my computer, and give online. However, that is a reminder mechanism for me, and not the reason I give. If an organization I want to support only sends me an email, I still give.
However, if your donor took the time to write a check or squeeze their credit card information onto those tiny lines on the response form, the letter may impact their gift. And no matter the size of that gift, their gift matters.
What if there are only 100 people who gave by mail last year?
There are still more ways to save. If a small number of people gave by mail over the past few years, you might be able to print your appeals in your office. It should still look professionally designed (or at least Canva-designed), including a printed response mechanism with a unique, personalized set of asks, and a return envelope. They do not need to know that you are printing them in-house. But, they should see the personal handwritten notes that you can write if you are printing appeals in-house.
What does all this mean? Stop procrastinating and create a:
- Calendar (include cost estimates/budget constraints)
- Theme for your year-end appeal (this makes every step easier to write)
- Write each element including the letters, emails, response mechanism, etc. (you can edit them later but do it asap, so you avoid the stress of last-minute writing)
- Thank you notes for online gift auto-response, online gift personalized note, mailed thank you note, letter from board president, and any other thank you notes you will send
Really, stop procrastinating and get to it. If you don’t know where to start, or even if you do, use AI to write stronger, clearer letters. I wrote this article about AI early in February, which seems like a lifetime ago (look for an update soon). The NYT had a great series on how to use it with guidance on prompts. Tom Ahern recently wrote an article about how he used AI in fundraising. Now you have no excuse not to get those letters done.
And speaking of letters, don’t forget to write the emails. Write more than you think you will use – at least 10 over 3 months. You can always reduce the number you use – but you won’t want to write more in crunch time.
You will feel so much better by tomorrow when you have a calendar and drafts done. Then the questions will not be “how many letters should I send?” but what other strategic elements can I add to improve the end-of-year appeal.