Do you ever wish you could send a year-end fundraising letter to existing donors that says: “Hi friend. It’s that time of year. This is your reminder to give. Please give again this year.”
If only it were that easy!
Unfortunately, the “just-send-money” approach doesn’t work. Charitable giving is much different than paying a bill or meeting an obligation. It’s voluntary and comes from the heart, which means nonprofits must provide a compelling, persuasive reason to give every time they ask. Even people who support a favorite cause want a new story, promise or need to inspire their next gift.
Fortunately, there’s a body of knowledge about what works to improve your year-end fundraising results. Here are seven tips to help you craft your year-end letter to meet your revenue goals and move your mission forward.
1. Make it about them, not you.
Fundraising appeals must be about the people who benefit from your organization and elevate how your donor can help solve an important problem with their gift. Your letter (and corresponding emails) should not be about your organization. Donors care about who you’re serving and how their lives are improving because of your programs or services.
One effective way to accomplish this is by sending your letter from someone who benefits from your mission. Rather than an appeal from your executive director, ask a grateful patient, parent, volunteer or respected community leader who has directly benefited from your work to author the letter. Research confirms donors want to hear from the highest-ranking volunteer who brings a personal perspective to the call to action.
2. Tell a compelling story.
At the end of each year, it’s easy to want to share a laundry list of accomplishments with your current and potential donors. But an overwhelming list of facts and statistics doesn’t often connect emotionally, even if the results are impressive. The best year-end giving letters tell a compelling story that demonstrates impact. Pairing facts with emotionally resonant stories is key.
Don’t be afraid to use more than one page when sending a direct mail piece, because longer letters raise more money. Yep, it’s true. Longer letters provide more entry points to engage donor interest and recognize that donors skip around so the need and ask must be repeated. People who like and respond to direct mail will read the story. So, tell a better one.
3. Match it.
Ask an existing donor or funding partner to provide a matching gift that will inspire donors to give, knowing their gift will be doubled. Everybody loves BOGO — a buy-one, get-one deal! Donors feel great knowing their gift will have twice the impact, and matching donors love knowing their gift will effectively raise more money.
4. Make a visual impression.
Formatting is important for successful year-end fundraising appeals. Successful letters use a clear, 12- or 14-point font (larger is better) and plenty of white space to be easy to read. Don’t be afraid to bold and underline key phrases.
When sending a mailing, add a clever teaser to the outside of the envelope, and continue the letter’s theme on the reply card, website homepage and online giving portal.
5. Make it personal.
Personalize your fundraising appeal for your recipients. This includes the address, salutation and previous giving amount if possible. Identify a group of donors, perhaps the most loyal and generous, and ask board members and the executive director to add personal notes to these letters.
6. See the bigger picture.
Treat your year-end fundraising mailing as part of an overall campaign. Include similar messaging in social media posts, emails, newsletters and on your website. Add a giving link to your email signature during the campaign. Consider creating a theme and corresponding hashtag to galvanize support. Report results online as the campaign unfolds and invite followers to join and promote the effort. Ask board members to share the campaign via their social networks to help build a ground swelling of support.
Finally, don’t let other people edit or revise your letter if they aren’t familiar with the science of direct mail. Some of the best techniques mentioned here may be counter-intuitive. Allowing too many editors may appease internal staff but won’t resonate with donors.
7. Don’t forget to say thank you.
For every gift you receive, send a freshly written thank-you letter filled with passion and authenticity. That means no jargon, “on behalf of,” or talking about the organization more than the donor. Focus your thank-you on what the donor made possible and report on results before you ask again.
Upcoming Fundraising Classes at NLC
- Fundraising 101 (July 17): This program is designed for those who have less than three years of fundraising experience but have a responsibility or share responsibility for fundraising at their organization.
- Mastering the Ask (November 5 & 12): This series examines the most common obstacles to making asks and how you can overcome them, equipping you for successful solicitations through hand-on practice. This program is good for anyone who asks for support, including fundraising staff, CEOs, executive directors, board members and volunteers.
Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, is a nonprofit expert, 25-year fundraising veteran and popular instructor at NLC. Contact her at alycelee@StansburyConsulting.com or 850-668-2569.
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