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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 …”
- 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