The Latest and Greatest Appeal Letter Essentials

Even though I write and edit appeal letters every year — often for multiple organizations — I still think it is important to make sure I know the Latest and Greatest appeal letter trends.

Yes, I did mean trends.

There was a point in time that fundraisers regularly:

  • Showed people looking their worst
  • Sent a coin or stamp with the appeal in hopes of guilting someone into giving (you can decide if the calendars and return address labels do the same thing)
  • Told how desperate the nonprofit is and how they might not survive without this gift
  • Explained every detail about the nonprofit in the appeal
  • Talked only about the nonprofit’s needs
  • Mailed to thousands of people they never previously had contact with

In my 19 years of fundraising, I have seen the theories change about what will work in an appeal. I’m not sure if that is because fundraising has changed, or the world has changed. Either way, I do research at the start of every Appeal season to make sure I will help my clients get the best results.

I have compiled my thoughts into two lists:

  • Show impact that the prospective donor can have on your nonprofit’s beneficiaries — tangible results that will only happen with the donor’s support.
  • Use “you” twice as much as “us” or “we.” This is about the donor — not the nonprofit.
  • Call to Action with multiple asks spread throughout your annual appeal letter, call outs, and in a P.S. This is not a donor update — this is an annual APPEAL letter. Remind the prospective donor of the need and the impact that they can provide right now.
  • Why now? That is a question that should be easily answered by the reader. If there is no sense of urgency, there is no need to give now.
  • Use bullets, bolded wordselements in color, and/or italicized. Even if you don’t want to read this whole article today, you can skim it to get the gist. The same is true of your annual appeal letter.
  • Don’t forget the P.S. That is the most read element of your letter, so make it count with a call to action.
  • Have a segmentation strategy that will allow you to speak to different constituents in different ways. This could be members / non-members, parents / alumni / students, non-donors / current donors / lapsed donors / first-time donors, New Englanders/West Coasters/Midwesterners/Southerners, or whatever makes sense for your organization. The more personal it feels, the more likely someone will see themselves in the role of the donor making the impact.
  • Be grateful for previous gifts. Thankful for future gifts. And send many thank you’s in between.

Strategies for Your Appeal Letter That Never Grow Old

  • Have a strong, compelling case for giving. Non-negotiable. If you can’t clearly articulate why someone should give to you this December/Spring/Summer, they won’t think to give to you at this time.
  • Remind people why they are involved in your organization and want to give. This letter is going to your mailing list which means you don’t have to explain your mission and vision. But you do have to tell them why they should give to you at this time.
  • Tell a story. The type of story changes over time from sad to happy to impactful, but being able to show who the donor is helping and why is always important. This also gives you a head start on what data to provide in your donor updates and thank you notes.
  • Start strong. The first few words will captivate a reader and encourage them to continue or have them skipping down to the bullets, bold, and italicized words.
  • Limit the ideas introduced. This is not the opportunity to describe every program and the needs. That can be explained in the annual or impact report.
  • Ask directly. This is not the time to use flowery, descriptive language. This is the time to ask if the donor will consider a gift of $X,XXX to help 134 teenagers learn how to respond to antisemitism this coming summer.
  • Include a goal, if possible.
  • Show your appreciation for previous support. It’s easy to do and helps donors feel like you know and care about them.
  • Personalize. This has not always been the case (Dear Friend), but it has been enough years that you should know who you are asking if they are on your list.
  • Make it easy to reply. Online, response slips, QR codes, URL, check, credit card, PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, contact information for the office, and any other option that will make it easy for someone to give a gift.

One last piece of advice. Start now. It will take you a few versions, your colleagues or boss will want to review it, the designer will need time, and the mailing always takes longer than you would like.

If you ever want to talk about your donor strategies and what you can do to improve them, click here to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with us.